How to Work With Student Families
No matter what grade level your students are as a teacher you will need to develop skills for interacting with their families, who may come from all different backgrounds and cultures. A teacher needs to realize that students have their own unique family dynamics, along with their own cultural and social guidelines. How can a teacher effectively utilize these family dynamics to enhance their student’s education?
Recognize the Purpose of Collaboration
In order to effectively communicate with family members you need to fully understand the purpose of coming together. While the teacher (who's had many more of these meetings) already understands it, the parents may not necessarily be clear on a purpose. Some may feel it is to give an account of the child’s behavior over the past few months while others may approach the meeting with a defensive stance. When the teacher makes it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to encourage questions and provide needed answers that will help the parent to make vital decisions regarding the child’s education, then the entire meeting will have a positive approach.
It is also necessary to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other. This can be done in more ways than just considering parents' cultural differences and backgrounds. If the parents work for example, can you arrange a meeting time that does not interfere with their work schedule? When meetings are held at mutually convenient times, the family members are far less likely to be rushed, stressed, or feel inconvenienced and you will have their full attention. Mutual respect also requires acceptance of different viewpoints and their validity. Make sure that everyone has the same information so that communication does not hit a snag.
It’s Not About Control
Accept the fact that you don’t have all the answers and be balanced when speaking to the family. Understand that family members and the student’s support community also has something to contribute and that most are willing to do whatever they can to make sure that their child succeeds. You also need to understand that there may be some underlying prejudices and issues that may arise. As long as the focal point is on helping the student and not deciding who is right, then you’ll find out that you can have more cooperation when it comes to education. The more they are allowed into the educational process the more supportive they will be when it comes to their child’s education.
Work to Build Relationships
Rather than an occasional meeting once or twice a year, work to build a relationship with the families to help their child succeed. When a new child moves into the area, can you visit the family home as a show of welcome? Give a family member due recognition when they have contributed something that can help the educational process along. If the family is in need, recommending social services can do a lot for building up a solid relationship that can last well into the student’s future.
Consider Their Needs
There may be many reasons why parents are not readily available to communicate with a classroom teacher. As a teacher you need to understand what they are and do what you can to facilitate the situation. Some parents may speak another language and may need the assistance of an interpreter to help with communications. You may have to learn something about their social, cultural, and religious background. Or parents may just have a problem with scheduling that could make it difficult to meet. The more you understand what support they need to work with you the more you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals.
Learning how to communicate with students' families can be a challenge for some teachers. However, if you’re able to lay a foundation of mutual respect, and work towards building relationships rather than a tell all session, you’ll find that most parents are quite happy to support the teachers and their efforts to educate their child. There is no such thing as everyone having the same viewpoint or agreeing on the same approach to a particular problem but as long as everyone is given a voice and the purpose is clear, collaboration with parents is more than possible.