It’s back to school week for a lot of kids in Florida. Which means you may have seen a lot of posts like these rolling around the internet about how to seriously and others not so seriously, (but perhaps still likely to be appreciated by teachers) begin the school year on a positive foot.
Show up. Introduce yourself. Offer a kind gesture. Buy the things on the list. Don’t judge. Don’t listen to negative talk from years past. Those are all true and actionable.
But stop for a second. Don’t those sound like things you would do when starting any new relationship?
A new neighbor moves in. You show up, introduce yourself, and may bring a gift. You meet a friend of a friend for the first time. You don’t listen to another person’s judgment of who they are, you have a conversation with them yourself and create your own connection.
So sure, these lists are solid reminders and written in an attempt to help. But when we look at them more deeply, are they illustrating that we’ve gotten to a place where there is so large a divide between parents and teachers, that we have to remind ourselves to treat each other like humans first? Humans who are both committing to care for and build our children up together? That doesn’t seem like it should even be necessary, but sadly, it is at a lot of schools.
We’re some of the lucky ones. Our families, teachers, and our school culture do not see parents or teachers as “others”. We know that we’re on the same team working towards a similar goal and are grateful for one another. So we thought we’d offer a few reminders on how to continue maintaining a positive teacher-family relationship beyond just the first day of school.
1. Trust one another and communicate your appreciation of one another OFTEN.
You’re on the same team and both have ridiculously hard jobs. Acknowledge and accept that.
One of the best things I realized as a beginning teacher that allowed me to not judge or hold animosity towards parents, which seems systemic when you look from the inside, was to assume that each of them is doing the best they can at that moment. Just like we should be viewing our kids.
Sure the homework may not get done one night. But is that because the parents are working two jobs now? Going through a tough spot in their marriage? Or just didn’t have the energy that day? Whatever the reason, I’m better off trying to empathize and assuming the best case scenario. It only makes my job harder if I question or assume ill intent. I choose to instead trust and accept that if it could’ve gotten done, then it would have.
Families, the same rings true for your teachers. We all went to school for this. You know we’ve made the commitment and all of the sacrifices to take on a thankless job. So assuming the best case scenario, trusting, and having the same space and grace for your teachers who are almost implicitly expected to show up as a near perfect version of themselves day in and day out, goes a long way.
That doesn’t mean ignoring issues when they arise. But communicating your love, acceptance, and appreciation for one another’s efforts consistently throughout the year makes those conversations that much easier to have when they’re necessary. A note in the agenda, a card or treat for no reason, an opportunity to highlight the other – those all go a long way. Extra bonus if you do it in front of or with the kids. (See #2.) Committing to ongoing communication is key.
2. Appreciate each other’s differences and learn from one another.
Just like we tell our kids right?
No matter our culture or prior life experience, it’s safe to assume that neither teachers nor parents jumped into their roles (or at least remain committed to those roles) without wanting to be there. So since we’re both working towards the same goal – doing what’s best for our kids – why not view one another as a welcomed asset?
If you’re struggling with organization with your kid at home, confide in their teacher and ask for their help. They have likely dealt with hundreds of kids with similar issues and can offer you many solutions and even build upon and help you through addressing with your child at school.
Likewise, teachers. If you’re struggling with a behavior at school, confide in your parents and ask for their support at home. So many of our parents and caregivers want to help and by asking in a healthy family-teacher relationship, it should not be seen as a negative experience, but using another strong adult ally to reinforce similar expectations at home.
We all have different strengths. So honor them and remember that we’re all on the same team. We don’t have to go at this alone.
3. Remain real and committed.
Over the course of the year, we will all have triumphs, failures, loves, and losses. We will feel on top of the world and feel like throwing in the towel. But what is most important is that we remain true to who we are and remain committed to the bigger picture, our values, and one another.
It’s not enough to expect your kids to learn from their mistakes and have a positive attitude if you are constantly complaining and unhappy. You can’t expect kids or others around you to work hard if you are not putting your all in as well.
That doesn’t mean don’t practice self-care or that you’re not allowed to have a down day. But remember that our kids are always watching, listening, and looking to us to model how to deal with all of life’s experiences.
If you’re faking it, your feelings or your commitment, everyone else can see that and won’t give it their all either.
After you’ve got numbers 1-3 down, you should be in the midst of a healthy parent-teacher relationship. If you’re operating with a sense of kindness, empathy, and an attitude of focusing on the positive, then hopefully you’ve created a sense of trust and appreciation and can move on to the fun in #4.
4. Have a sense of humor and share the moments.
Kids are hysterical! (And kind and loving and determined and _ and _and _.) But for now, let’s focus on the silly moments.
When little Stevie comes home and literally wipes his boogers all over his paper and you know his teacher would want nothing to do with that, send his teacher a message and let them know why you won’t be turning it in … and you’re welcome!
Or when little Emily slips and tells the whole class about how her sweet Momma is known for her road rage and describes all of the antics of a recent situation … (name changed but true story,) share that privately with that Momma!
Share it in an, “I see you normal human and I get this moment. It’s hysterical! No judgement. Thank you for the laugh. I hope this uplifts your day like it did mine,” way.
And please, share the heartfelt ones too. Where they tell you how much they love their teacher because… or that they’re so happy this morning because their parent… We both work so hard. Those moments are the ones that keep us going.
The moments are fleeting. Pay attention to them. Enjoy them. Share them. It just helps reinforce the relationship.
5. Remember that we are all human and get to know each other as such.
While the parent-teacher relationship likely revolves around the kid, as it should, remembering that we all have lives outside of the classroom and the home ourselves should remain somewhere in the conversation too.
We have pasts, we have interests, we have things that make us tick, and goals that we’re working towards.
Don’t wait until teacher appreciation week or Mother’s/Father’s Day to get to know about your teacher’s favorite restaurant or even deeper about their family life, hopes, or dreams.
When you sink that type of time and effort into another person who is doing the same, you better believe that you will have created a relationship that turns into a connection that will span more than just this school year.
I’ve watched a teachers’ home get burned down and families of past years jump in to help. I’ve seen a mother pass away, and watched the teachers step in to maintain long term relationships to support the kids long after the fact.
Mainstream media may try to polarize and divide us, but we’re all human.
We all only get one go at this. One chance to positively impact our kids and to live a life that we’re proud of.
Find ways to deeply connect with and uplift one another. It’s respectful, it’s meaningful, and it’s all of our shared experience-it’s real life. The kids need us and we need each other.
What’s one tip that you’d share as a parent/caretaker or a teacher that would help maintain a long term positive relationship?