5 Ways To Improve Parent/School Relationship

We look at five of the most pressing parent-school relationship issues and offer new ways to shift into ‘over-thrive’.

Problem: Entitlement Mentality

Where do you draw the line between teacher accountability and ‘pushy parent’?

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When it comes to your child’s education, it’s natural to want the best for them. Some parents feel a sense of entitlement and place pressure on the teacher to cater for their child’s needs.

“Parents have made various demands of teachers, such as wanting one-to-one support in every lesson and that their child be placed in a lead role in a school play,” says Mohan Dhall, CEO of the Australian Tutoring Association and UTS teaching methods lecturer.

This needs to be managed in a way that can be reasonably handled within a schooling system, where resources are limited, advises Mohan.

Parents need to understand the complex demands teachers face.

This includes catering to students’ needs, adapting to technology and meeting ever-growing administrative pressures, while educators can help by being open to understanding the legitimate concerns of parents and accommodating and encouraging individuality as much as possible.

Problem: Help! I can’t understand my child’s homework!

Methodologies and terminologies change over the years, especially in maths. How do you stay current?

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Whether it’s reteaching yourself how to do long division (let’s face it, many of us haven’t used it since school!) or fiddling with the latest science experiment – children’s homework can be hard. There are a variety of things schools can do to help.

Parents can go to the Board of Studies for syllabus documents, or schools can send a glossary of terms with explanations home or post them online, says Cheryl Bailey, Head of Junior School at Ravenswood School for Girls in Sydney. “A particularly useful strategy is to use a student mentor system, where a child’s homework is to teach their parent what they learned at school,” she says.

“This tests the strength of the student’s knowledge and also educates the parent.”

Belmore South Public School in Sydney is opening its maths classes to parents in Term 3 as part of its Early Action for Success K-2 maths program, which teaches the new language of maths in a fun way to parents and students to use in daily life. “When I was young, homework was about banging out tables,” says P&C President, Lisa Trewin, mother to two boys, four and six.

“Now, as I’m cooking, my son is talking to me about how he arrived at that maths answer. It makes him incredibly proud and happy to share what he’s done at school with me.”

Eltham East Primary School in Melbourne sends out a fortnightly curriculum newsletter, which shows parents how they can help their child learn over the coming two months. For example, as Years 1 and 2 learn about time, it suggests parents ask, “What’s the time?”, say, “15 minutes until bedtime”, and count backwards from 60.

Caulfield Grammar is seeing parent engagement from its DigiMe portfolio app, which tracks student progress over the year and allows parents to sit in and comment on teacher-student dialogue.

Problem: What do teachers really need from me as a parent?

A supportive parent can be a teacher’s best friend. How?

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Parents have an overwhelming impact on how a child behaves, especially at school, says NSW public school primary teacher Jack Mitchells*. Teachers and parents need to work together to reinforce lessons of fairness and understanding of others, so children quickly learn how to deal with situations that don’t quite go as expected.

“School is as much about learning the curriculum as it is about interacting with others in a structured social setting – school is a microcosm of the real world,” says Jack. Next time something doesn’t go perfectly for your child, try to find the positives, encourage the thought pattern ‘it’s okay’, and use the experience to improve your child’s resilience.

Problem: What can I do if I disagree with a teacher’s assessment of my child?

Listening and communicating are essential skills for building win/win relationships.

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It may be tempting to stand at the school gates gossiping about a teacher you don’t get along with, but this isn’t going to change the situation.

“If you do have a concern with a staff member, another child or a management issue, it’s usually best to discuss it first with your teacher,” says Philip Ledlin, Year 6 teacher and Religious Education Co-ordinator at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School in Sydney.

If you find yourself continually querying teachers and school management, Philip suggests stepping back and objectively considering your negative experience.

“Incessant negativity from a parent can seriously impact a child’s wellbeing and overall performance at school.”

That applies in reverse, too. Tracy Berg* was horrified to learn near the end of the year that her five-year-old son had been “violent” all year. “Everyone seemed to know about it but me,” she says. “I had given the school the heads-up that he was a boundary-pusher,” says Tracy.

“The school said they’d had several ‘meetings’ with me over the year, but all they had made was the odd casual comment that his behaviour was ‘not so good today’ at pick-up.”

Tracey’s son is now in a new school, which has bent over backwards to implement a range of strategies. “Don’t be afraid to speak up. I was intimidated by the teachers, and should have had the confidence in myself as a parent.”

Problem: Social media is transforming school-parent digital communication, but what about face-to-face?

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Just because the digital world has opened more channels of communication, doesn’t mean it has completely replaced the importance of face-to-face contact. Many schools have events or programs in place to ensure this important means of communication is not lost.

If your school doesn’t, talk to the P&C about setting something up.

Theodore Public School in the ACT holds out-of-hours events like ‘PJ and Hot Chocolate’ story-time in Book Week, ‘Pizza and Problem’ night where maths methodology is explained to families and an 8am pancake breakfast.

Oxley State School in Brisbane holds a night-time administration information session to present school growth plans, curriculum expectations, to show how parents can give support, and introduce the administrative team. This year a second admin info session ran on the Saturday open day.

“Feedback has been extremely positive,” says Principal, Richenda Wagener.

“Families are feeling a greater sense of inclusion.”

Eltham East Principal, Cheryl Macnee, meets all incoming families with a one-on-one tour and a group get-together. “Transition is not just for children, it’s for families,” she says. “If we can transition the family, it solves problems down the line.” She also holds a mothers’ dinner every International Women’s Day with an inspiring local speaker. This year’s was attended by 140 women, and she is planning a fathers’ dinner.

“It’s about ensuring schools and parents are working together. We’ve both got your child’s interests at heart,” says Cheryl. “It’s about making sure that’s how you feel.”

* Name has been changed.

Words by Natalie Ritchie

Natalie Ritchie
Natalie Ritchie