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Eight Suggestions for Improving Parent-Teacher Relations

Note: The following article summary is shared with permission from Kim Marshall, a former Boston principal, author, and nationally recognized educator. This is from his weekly educator e-newsletter, The Marshall Memo.

In this New York Times article, sixth-grade teacher Sara Mosle says some parents are overly intrusive, which robs children of the opportunity to solve problems themselves and puts teachers on the defensive. At the other extreme is parents holding back for fear of irritating teachers and sparking retaliation against their children. Here are Mosle’s ideas for a productive middle ground: Parents should encourage their children to take the lead in sorting out difficulties with teachers. College admissions officers tell school people that they look for students who have developed confidence and “voice.”

• Parents and teachers should use e-mail and text messages only to convey simple information like appointments or scheduled absences. For anything more substantive, especially if one party is annoyed or angry, it’s better to pick up the phone or speak in person. Conflicts can escalate in e-mail exchanges in ways that would never happen speaking face to face.

• Parents should not cc. the principal or other administrators when e-mailing about routine issues. “It’s disrespectful to teachers and parents alike,” says Palo Alto superintendent Kevin Skelly, “as it sends the message you don’t think there’s even a chance you can work this out on your own.”

• Teachers should respond to parent com communications promptly, even if it’s a brief acknowledgement and a request for some time to solve a problem. For their part, parents should appreciate that teachers are busy during the day and may have other responsibilities after school. “My students know that I’m unlikely to respond to an e-mail between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.,” says Mosle, “as that’s when I’m focusing on being a parent to my own child.”

• Teachers should immediately apologize if they drop the ball. “Nothing is more disarming,” says Skelly, “and it’s so simple to do.”

• Teachers and parents should emphasize and build on children’s strengths. Mosle confesses that she doesn’t do this enough as a teacher, and urges everyone, “If you have something positive to say, say it early and often.”

• When there are conflicts, parents and teachers should present specific desired outcomes that will help the child do better.

• Parents and teachers should “proceed with humility,” says Mosle, taking with a grain of salt occasional bellyaching about teachers, especially by adolescents working through issues with authority. “The teenager, being a teenager, may not rank your parenting skills very high, either,” says Skelly.

Summarized from “The Parent- Teacher Trap” by Sara Mosle in The New York Times, Jan. 13, 2013.