013: [Q&A] How to Initiate Positive Parent-Teacher Relations

20th March, 2019 Posted under Impressive

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According to studies, involvement of parents in their child’s education by being involved in the school affairs, as well as interacting with the teachers, aid in the success of their young one. The child would strive to do better if she knows that her parents have built a good relationship with her adviser because she can be closely monitored. But how would parents initiate a constructive relationship with a teacher despite the latter’s busy schedule and heavy workload? And what questions should the parents ask the teacher to have effective school-related conversations that would benefit all parties, most of all, the child?

In the 13th episode of the Impressive podcast, another in Q & A format, Doctor Kimberley O’Brien helps you how to have a healthy discussion about your child’s performance with the teachers.

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About Impressive

Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.

In an approachable on-air consultation style, she listens to some of the smartest, kindest parents share their latest parenting challenge with their incredible kids. Together they brainstorm solutions and Kimberley offer handy tips and valuable resources to help bring out the best in toddlers, teens and in-betweens. Drawing mostly on two decades of experience as a child psychologist, Kimberley also shares her personal insights as a mother of two and entrepreneur with a passion for problem-solving.


[00:00:08 – 00:01:51]: Doctor Kimberley introduces the topic for episode 13 of Impressive, which delves into parent-teacher communication. She says the parents’ involvement at school by interacting with their child’s teachers is important because it is their way to know the progress of the kid, who spends a lot of time with their teacher during the day.

Doctor Kimberley: Hello, I’m Doctor Kimberley O’Brien — a child psychologist, entrepreneur, and mom with a passion for problem-solving in family adventures. Join me each week for practical tips and on-air consultations with the smartest, kindest parents and their incredible kids. Find answers faster, do things differently, and take your family further. This is Impressive.

[00:00:30 – 00:00:33]: This episode is sponsored by BriteChild.com. Now, let’s get started.

Doctor Kimberley: This is episode 13 of Impressive, and I’m your host, Doctor Kimberley O’Brien. Thanks for joining us again on Impressive. This week we’re going to talk about parent-teacher teamwork, and a big part of that is parent-teacher communication. So, I’m going to talk about what I think is really important based on my two decades of experience working with children and parents, and teachers in a team kind of relationship, so that we can all address issues consistently, and feel that we’re part of prioritizing what the issues are and how we’re going to address them.

So, good communication is really essential, so we’re going to talk about how to initiate good communication because every teacher is different. What sort of teachers have you had to work with in the past? Your children probably have had a huge variety of teachers. Some are really open when it comes to communication. Others like to do things quite independently and encourage students to be very independent, which sometimes leave parents feeling a little bit on the outer when it comes to knowing what’s happening and how they can contribute to the classroom, and most importantly, how they can have a clear channel of communication with the person who’s spending a lot of time with their young person during the day.

[00:01:52 – 00:03:36] Before she reads the questions coming from three listeners, as this episode is following a Q&A style, Doctor O’Brien wishes everyone to share the Impressive podcast and invites them to send in their questions, if there are any, to the Quirky Kid’s e-mail or to through BriteChild.com.

Doctor Kimberley: So, if you’ve been listening to Impressive weekly, you’ll notice that when you click the ‘Subscribe’ button on
your podcast app, you’ll be notified when a new episode drops. And if you have already done that, I’d love it if you did, so that we can start together a nice audience of listeners, and you can share episodes that you’ll appreciate with your colleagues, teachers, psychologists, and friends and family, anyone else you think might be interested. I’d really appreciate it if you did share this episode.

This is a Q&A episode, so what we’re going to do is listen to some questions from listeners. And if you’d like to send in a question, you can do that by e-mail just go to support@quirkykid.com.au. That’s support@quirkykid.com.au. And if you have a whole bunch of questions that you think you’d like to ask a child development expert on a regular basis, you should head over to our new app. It’s via the website BriteChild.com. It’s B-R-I-T-E-Child.com, and there you can connect with your very own child development expert, as I said, anywhere, anytime from any part of the world. Write down your question and get a quick response that could be via video, or it could be sending links to different articles, which are helpful. But the content will be curated and it will be personalized to your particular issue. It’s on a subscription basis that’s very reasonable. So, check out BriteChild.com. If you’d love to be part of that new opportunity for parents that find it difficult to get to a clinic, or if, you know, they’re not prepared to go on the very end of a waiting list. Sometimes, being out to connect directly with a professional is the easiest option.

[00:03:37 – 00:07:37] The first question asks for tips to start a conversation with his child’s teacher. Doctor O’Brien suggests that the parent should start with sending a short e-mail to the teacher to address the issue. But if he fails to get a feedback because the teacher has a heavy workload, which is understandable, then he could opt to meet the teacher after class on a weekly basis and/or set a case conference to discuss the child’s performance.

Doctor Kimberley: Now, let’s start with some questions from our listeners. The first one is:

Q: How do I initiate a conversation with my child’s teacher?

Doctor Kimberley: It seems that this person has tried a number of different ways. They’ve sent an e-mail, or they’ve waited after class and the teacher has been swamped with other parents and kids–lots of distractions–and they’re wondering how to start the conversation.

So, my suggestion is to go, write an e-mail to start with. If you are lucky enough to have your teacher’s e-mail address, that’s a great way to communicate. And I would suggest a weekly e-mail. If you’re concerned about any particular issue, or you just want regular feedback, in my opinion, a weekly e-mail is really reasonable and it doesn’t have to be lengthy. But you could also just drop in a quick line to say these are the areas that you’re most interested in. So, it could be, “How’s she going on a playground?” or “How’s he going in the classroom?” And just having a quick update once a week would be something that, for most parents, is enough to know that things are either going well, or if anything else needs attention, that’s another great place to start with what other things can be offered to make sure that your young person is thriving in the playground and the classroom.

If you found that sending an e-mail to your teacher has not been responded to, or if your teacher is not open to receiving regular e-mails because of their workload, I would also recommend waiting after class on a weekly basis. It could be on a Friday afternoon, or it could be on Monday morning, whatever works with your schedule, and just checking in because it’s nice to let the teacher know that you’re available, you want a quick update. And that’s not being too pushy because some parents somehow just feel that being there kind of asking for feedback is going to be crossing the line and some teachers won’t appreciate it. But in my experience, when issues do arise and we call a case conference, and that is where you have the psychologist by phone, the parents either in person or by phone, and the teacher conduct that after class with, say, 15 minutes to address the issue, which usually means talking it through, giving an update from home, school, and from the psychologist.

And then, once everyone’s had their chance to give some feedback, you consider everybody’s on the same page. Everyone’s voice time is all about helping the young person, not blaming, not feeling haven’t done enough, it’s all about working together because everyone has the best interest of the child in mind. And after you’ve brainstormed what you think might be going on, what you think might have made a difference, you’re really looking for solutions. So, you might be out to think of some exceptions on one particular day, things went really well or everything had been going really well and there’s this one exception that didn’t go so well. So, try and pull out what the exceptions were, so that you can kind of understand the behavior a little big clearer.

And if you can work out with the recipe–I use that word, recipe, for a really positive day for a young person—then share it with the teachers, parents, the psychologists, and everybody who would then be on the same page about what’s working for that young person and that’s key, and then help finding out how everyone can contribute to make sure everyday is as good as it can be for that young person. And also, how you’re going to share your praise or your feedback to the young person as well, so that they know that they’re doing well, and that could be up to three times a day—a quick check-in—because if you leave it for too long and you kind of, you know, wait [for] another week to give some feedback to the young person, or the end of the day. That’s often too long.

So, if you can do three, quick feedback during the day, that’s typically how teachers would do it after a case conference–to say, “You’re doing great,” “I love the way you did this,” “That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” the kids will really appreciate it, and you’ll see some very positive behavioral changes.

[00:11:51 – 00:15:11] And if you want more information about your child’s performance coming from a third party, you may ask help from the psychologists. The Quirky Kid Clinic offers school observation to inform you about how your child behaves at school. And two award-winning programs they also offer, the Best of Friends®program and the BaseCamp® program, can aid in the behavioral development of your kid.

Doctor Kimberley: Now, when it comes to getting the teacher’s opinion and asking them to describe what they see in the classroom or the playground, it’s something that psychologists do quite often, I know we do it at the Quirky Kid Clinic, and that is offer school observation. So, parents will pay us to go to the school and to sit in the classroom for half an hour or in the playground, that’s included in the same observations, so you can do a comparison between indoors and outdoors, which often tells you which environment the young person is most comfortable.

It also gives you a really good opportunity to compare how your, this particular child that you’re watching compares to other children of the same age. So, are they equally as active, equally as social, are they kind of on the outskirts of the circle? It’s a really good opportunity just to consider where they are in terms of their age comparison, so that you can see whether or not they’re on par with their peers socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. So, even understanding how they react when things don’t go their way, finding out how they, are they resilient? Or do they become quite defensive? What are those reactions like? So that you can then have a think about how you might mention that at home, or how you can work with the teacher to use the strategies across home and school. That would be the role of the psychologist to help you to develop those strategies, and then to share them with the parent and the teacher after having some really nice feedback in the case conference. And then, you would pretty much set like, four to six weeks for everyone to put some of those strategies into practice, and then check back in in six weeks, just a “How did it that go?” So that everyone can say, “I noticed this. This one’s now an issue,” or “Everything’s resolved. No further concerns.” So, that’s why it’s important to understand what the teacher’s seeing: to develop those strategies, to put them into action, and then to check back and review it.

If you’re now already seeing a psychologist, but you think there might be some room to help your young person, you can either contact us at the Quirky Kid Clinic, which is QuirkyKid.com.au. We do Skype calls; we also do telephone consultations for a distance, [for] clients at a distance. We also do school holiday programs, so if people are travelling in to Sydney, we can offer small group programs to develop social skills or to manage anxiety.

If you’d like to find out more about the Quirky Kid programs, there’s one called the Best of Friends®, which is an award-winning program and it’s based on a craft activity book, or the BaseCamp® program, which is our anxiety program which is also an award-winning program because it’s beautifully designed and the activities are age-appropriate for children aged 7 to 12 years. So, it’s very engaging, and it’s also being tested to see that it’s evidence-based by the University of Wollongong. That’s the Best of Friends® program and BaseCamp® is currently under review as well.

Since lots are happening at Quirky Kid, if you’re interested in a program, go to QuirkyKid.com.au and check out our programs.

[00:15:12 – 00:18:20] Students reaching their early adolescence more likely can relate to the last question. When they don’t feel like communicating with their teacher about their performance in the classroom, Doctor O’Brien recommends the parents’ involvement. Ask the coordinator about the issue, and if they don’t reply, tell the assistant principal that you did contact the teacher but you haven’t heard from him, then request for an assurance that the issue is being handled. You can put these into writing. Let your child do the same if he does find it awkward having face-to-face communication with his teacher.

Doctor Kimberley: Now, the next question from our listener is:

Q: What if a young person doesn’t want you to communicate with the teacher?

Doctor Kimberley: Well, this is quite common when kids are over the age of 12 years and they’ve been to the high school and the ideal parent, you know, waiting after class to communicate with the teachers like the worst nightmare, and that should be respected and communication can be done in that case with the coordinator. And the coordinator is the person pulls together all the feedback from the individual teachers. So, you should still get to hear from each teacher, but the coordinator is the one that will pull that together.

And how to do that on a regular basis? I would recommend about once every six weeks to check in with the coordinator if you have any concerns. If you don’t, then most parents will wait for the parent-teacher interviews, but feedback from parents is that often parent-teacher interviews are very rushed and teachers struggle to keep the time because there’s so many kids to talk about, and when the parent arrives slightly late, then of course, you know, their schedules are not very effective. So, the best thing to do is to, again, just put your concerns in writing because if they are in writing, you can also come back to that at a later date if you need to, say, “Look, I’ve contacted you on the 12th, on the 3rd, 12th of March, and I haven’t heard anything back in response. Just letting you know I’m still concerned about this.”

If there’s still no response, then I would recommend going to the assistant principal to let them know that you’ve contacted the coordinator a couple of times and haven’t heard back. “Could you ask them to check in to see everything’s okay with this particular issue?”

I’d also encourage young people, if they’re concerned about anything–it could be a social issue, or a teacher yelling, or too much homework, whatever their concern is. If you can encourage them to put their concerns on paper, or to, you know, write an e-mail, that’s better than having a parent do the work on the child’s behalf. So, teaching independence and encouraging them to share what their concerns are directly with the teacher is usually the best way to create a positive parent…I’m sorry, teacher-student relationship, so that’s another way to go about it.

And if the student doesn’t get the response that they’re looking for, then that’s just, you know, more information you can pass on to the assistant principal. “So, this happened on this day. I’ve contacted this person on that day. Now, we’d like to hear your opinion on this matter,” because having things in writing and having dates attached is a good way to keep, you know, records in order. And for young people, it’s a great way to show them how you can advocate for them and resolve issues by looking for solutions. So, it’s not about listing other problems, but listing ways that you think solutions can be found to address whatever your concerns are. Teachers will really appreciate it as well, in my experience. So, they want to help in, you know, in 99.9% of cases.

[00:18:21 – 00:21:53] When the teacher’s feedback is not want you wanted to hear, fret not! Do not resort to changing schools on impulse. Make your child understand the importance of his placement at the school by speaking positively about the teachers and the campus itself in front of the young person. Doctor O’Brien says that the school can be part of the child’s support network.

Doctor Kimberley: And if you find that you do get a negative response or not the response you’re looking for–this has happened in my experience, too, that parents would come to see a psychologist because they’re considering changing school, which is like, you know, the last straw–I would suggest that, you know, every attempt should be made to sustain the placement of the student at the same school because if you do start looking at different schools, then as I’ve said in the early part of the episode, it can really undermine the student’s commitment to the school. So, they’ll start to maybe even tell their friends, “I might be changing schools.” That just means that they might want to hand their homework in.

Please do try everything you possibly can to maintain that placement at the school before you start looking at other options, and certainly do try to always speak positively about the teachers and the school in front of the young person because you do not want to have them, your young person with a load of tears like they really like their school, they really like their friends, they really like their teachers. But if parents are not happy with them, that leaves them in a real bind because obviously they trust your opinion, and then they’re not sure if they are in a good place.

So, since they’ve started question their placement at the school, that’s just a whole lot of extra focus that’s coming away from their academics and their social life, and it’s focusing on something that is really an adult issue when it comes to researching of the schools that should be done completely separate to the young person. So, tell him if you are a 100% person serious about changing schools, that thing you would involve the young person in that process and that’s something you should talk about as a family not before you’ve tried absolutely everything to maintain that placement in their current school.

The reason that’s not great to change schools regularly is because students are like plants, they want to put down their roots, establish a really firm network within that school community, they can use it as support network. So, they have their families as support network, but the school is also a huge support network for the young person. So, in order of changing schools is a massive, a massive move, so it’s best to try and, yeah, resolve issues because that’s also a good way to show your young person that you can resolve issues, and that’s usually a solution to every situation, that’s just a matter of putting your heads together and trying to find your way through, and being committed to resolving that issue is a really important skill to teach the young person, so I’d encourage you to do that.

Okay. So, we’re going to wrap it up for this session on parent-teacher communications. We will do more episodes on this particular topic in the future because it is a popular issue. We get a lot of referrals around this, and we have a lot of success when it comes to talking to schools and making sure parents are happy to maintain that placement. So, if you like to have a Quirky Kid psychologist involved in supporting your parent-teacher relationship, please do go to QuirkyKid.com.au. You can book online, or you can drop us an e-mail at support@quirkykid.com.au. We would absolutely love to hear from you.

I hope you enjoyed this episode. This was Impressive.

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