Teachers Need Parents' Help

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. How do you encourage parents to be team players and help support the student at home when they have the "You're the teacher, it's your job!" attitude?

A. When parents have a "You're the teacher, it's your job!" attitude, it's often because these parents haven't had a good school experience and feel uncomfortable even talking to a teacher. As a teacher, in order to help your student, you'll want to try to create an alliance with the parents and make them feel that your school really cares about its' students. First and foremost, observe the child's strengths and abilities and share those with the parents. Parents are always delighted to hear good news about their children and, no doubt, they're tired of hearing about their child's problems. Your observations of good qualities will convince the parents that you're truly interested in their child. Next, try to engage the parents by asking them to share with you how they'd like to see their child's future evolve so you can guide them along that path. Together, create a plan of how you can work with each other to motivate their child. If you're sensing that these particular parents won't be able to follow through on plans, either because they're too busy, or because the child is already oppositional, explain that you'll try to form a plan that can be maintained in school. Also, indicate you'll contact them soon about the new plan you create.

I usually suggest that schools have a Homework Club after school for students who don't get homework done at home. If your school doesn't have an after-school program like that, talk to your principal about it. It's a great help in cutting down on underachievement in school. Parents can opt to have their children stay for Homework Club, thus cutting down significantly on the number of students with incomplete assignments. These parents would likely be delighted if their child came home with homework already completed and you'd feel more supported by the parents as well.

I've included a teacher-parent ALLIANCE acrostic for other suggestions on how you can attract hesitant parents to work with you for their children. The research findings on parent-school cooperation are very clear. Parent cooperation does really help students achieve. While some parents aren't as cooperative as others, it's worth reaching out to them so children feel that their parents and teachers are united to help them learn.

ALLIANCE for Successful Teacher-to-Parent Communication

Ally with the parents privately about their concerns.
Listen to what the parents have observed about their child.
Learn about what the parents think is best for their child.
Initiate a conversation about the student's strengths.
Add experimental ideas for engaging and interesting curricular and extracurricular activities.
Negotiate to find appropriate adult and peer role models.
Consider alternate possibilities if experimental opportunities are not effective.
Extend possibilities patiently.