How to Build a Parent–Teacher Partnership

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Ideally, parents should view their child’s preschool teacher as an extension of their family. The relationship between these adults is the childʼs introduction to the workings of a diverse world and the first stop on the long road of education. The teacher has created a safe and orderly place to nurture children and prepare them (and their parents) for a more institutionalized setting.

Children benefit the most when a parent–teacher partnership is established at the beginning. Hopefully, this will not be an abrupt leap of faith but a burgeoning, interactive relationship that is responsive to the particular needs of each child and family.

Here are five ways to help make this foundation strong:

1. Be interested. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and ask to have a pow-wow. Express your expectations and concerns; talk about your childʼs personality and response to his or her stage of development. For example, has your child become more willful since turning 3? With the advantage of objectivity, an experienced preschool teacher can offer insights into your situation. This is a crucial time to familiarize yourself with the school’s rules/routines and the teacher’s game plan and compare it to your own strategy. Parents and teachers who take time to learn about each other’s approach to common areas of child development, such as discipline, are better able to guide the child.

2. Be honest. Parents who communicate honestly about their expectations, their child’s level of development, and their areas of concern make classroom management less of a challenge. This opens the door for the teacher and parents to work toward achievable goals that will improve both home and school life.

For example, if your child is learning to communicate but tends to grab and bulldozes his or her way through the sandbox, let the teacher know. The teacher will know what behaviors to observe and will help your child develop impulse control and manners. Many times, the teacher just gets a glimpse of how your child behaves or copes with a situation once he or she is off school grounds. Often, children are on their best behavior at preschool or do not feel the need to react as strongly to something that is bothering them as they would at home.

3. Be consistent. Parents and teachers who have similar ways of managing children allow students to progress. The teacher will have rules that encourage good behavior, and you should, too. Children are adept at sensing an opening and will invariably try to have their way if only to get attention.

In fact, family “home rules” are fundamental and as equally important—some might say more important—as school rules and routines for the transition and flow into mainstream education.

For example, children with parents who tend to make (“protective”) excuses for their students’ poor behavior and donʼt allow them to experience the consequences are more inclined to have negative feedback from teachers and peers.

4. Be communicative. If you feel your child is going through a phase, talk with the teacher about it. It’s likely the concerning behavior you are seeing at home is occurring at school as well.

For example, families awaiting the birth of a baby will likely notice some regression or poor behaviors in their older child that translate to an intense need for reassurance. Parents and teachers can work together to help the child transition to being a big brother or sister.

5. Be understanding. Keep in mind there are one or two teachers to 12 or more families, depending on your preschool. Teachers perform at high levels daily and also have personal lives, which often includes caring for their own families. They are ready to go home at the end of the day and need down time.

If you would like to discuss an issue that does not require immediate attention, ask to make an appointment. Itʼs best to talk about areas of concern in private, not at the portal of the preschool. Children are listening even though they seem distracted.

Ana DeOcampo Sutley, M.A., ATR-MFT-I, is the owner of Playsmart Child Care and Preschool in Menlo Park. She has been working with local preschoolers for more than 15 years. Email her at playsmartchildcare@live.com.

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