[Q&A] How to Initiate Positive Parent-Teacher Relations


Leonardo Rocker

[Q&A] How to Initiate Positive Parent-Teacher Relations

According to studies, parent involvement in their child’s education by being engaged in the school affairs, as well as positively interacting with the teachers can be beneficial to educational outcomes. Children can strive to do better knowing that parents have built a good relationship teachers and school. But how can you initiate a constructive relationship with a teacher despite a busy schedule and heavy workload?

In the 13th episode of the Impressive podcast, another in Q & A format, Doctor Kimberley O’Brien helps you how to have a healthy discussion about your child's performance with the teachers.

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Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.


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Dr Kimberley O'Brien (00:08)

Hello, I'm Dr. Kimberley O'Brien, a child psychologist, entrepreneur, and mum with a passion for problem solving and family adventures. Join me each week for practical tips and on-air consultations with the smartest, kindest parents and their incredible kids. Find answers faster, do things differently, and take your family further. This is Impressive.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (00:34)

This is episode 13 of Impressive, and I'm your host, Dr. Kimberley O'Brien. Thanks for joining us again on Impressive. This week, we're going to talk about parent-teacher teamwork. And a big part of that is parent-teacher communication. I'm going to talk about what I think is really important based on my two decades of experience working with children and parents and teachers in a team kind of relationship so that we can all address issues consistently. And feel that we're part of prioritising what the issues are and how we're going to address them.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (01:08)

Good communication is really essential. we're going to talk about how to initiate good communication because every teacher is different. What sort of teachers have you had to work with in the past? Your children probably have had a huge variety of teachers. Some are really open when it comes to communication. Others like to do things quite independently and encourage the students to be very independent, which sometimes leave parents feeling a little bit on the outer when it comes to knowing what's happening and how they can contribute to the classroom. And most importantly, how they can have a clear channel of communication with the person who's spending a lot of time with their young person during the day.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (01:53)

If you've been listening to Impressive weekly, you'll notice that when you click the subscribe button on your podcast app, you'll be notified when a new episode drops, and if you haven't already done that, I'd love it if you did so that we can start to gather a nice audience of listeners. And you can share the episodes that you appreciate with your colleagues, teachers, GPs, psychologists, and friends and families or anyone else you think might be interested, I'd really appreciate it if you did share this episode.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (02:22)

This is a Q&A episode. What we're going to do is listen to some questions from listeners, and if you'd like to send in a question, you can do that via email. Just go email support@quirkykid.com.au. That's support@quirkykid.com.au.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (02:40)

And if you have a whole bunch of questions that you think you'd like to ask a child development expert on a regular basis, you should head over to our new app. It's via the website britechild.com, that's britechild.com. And there, you can connect with your very own child development expert, as I said, anywhere, anytime from any part of the world. Write down your question and get a quick response. That could be via video or it could be sending links to different articles which are helpful. But the content will be curated and it will be personalised to your particular issue.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (03:17)

It's a subscription basis and it's very reasonable. Check out britechild.com if you'd like to be part of that new opportunity for parents that find it difficult to get to a clinic. Or if they're not prepared to go on the very end of a waiting list, sometimes being able to connect directly with professional is the easiest option. Now, let's look at some questions from our listeners.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (03:40)

The first one is, how do I initiate a conversation with my child's teacher? It seems that this person has tried a number of different ways. They've sent an email, they've waited after class. The teacher's been swamped with other parents and kids, lots of distractions and they're wondering how to start the conversation.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (03:59)

My suggestion is to go via email to start with. If you are lucky enough to have your teacher's email address, that's a great way to communicate. And I would suggest a weekly email if you are concerned about any particular issue or you just want regular feedback. In my opinion, a weekly email is really reasonable. And it doesn't have to be lengthy, but you could also just drop them a quick line to say, these are the areas that you're most interested in.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (04:26)

It could be, "How's she going in the playground? Or how's she going in the classroom?" And just having a quick update once a week will be something that, for most parents, is enough to know that things are either going well or if anything needs attention. That's another great place to start with what other things can be offered to make sure that that young person is thriving in the playground and the classroom.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (04:51)

And if you found that sending an email to your teacher has not been responded to, or if your teacher's not really open to receiving regular emails because of their workload, I would also recommend waiting after class on a weekly basis. It could be on a Friday afternoon or it could be on a Monday morning, whatever works with your schedule.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (05:12)

And just checking in because it's nice to let the teacher know that you're available. You want a quick update and that's not being too pushy. As some parents sometimes feel that being there and asking for feedback is going to be crossing the line and some teachers won't appreciate it. But in my experience, when issues do arise and we call the case conference. And that is where you have the psychologist by phone, the parents either in-person or by phone. And the teacher can duck out of class for say 15 minutes to address the issue, which usually means talking it through, getting an update from home, school and from the psychologist.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (05:54)

And then once everyone's had their chance to give some feedback, you can see that everybody's on the same page. Everyone's voice tone is all about helping the young person. Not blaming, not feeling that they haven't done enough. It's all about working together because everyone has the best interest of a child in mind.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (06:11)

And after you brainstorm what you think might be going on, what you think might have made a difference, you're really looking for solutions. You might be able to think of some exceptions when, on one particular day, things went really well. Or everything had been going really well and there was this one exception when it didn't go so well. Trying to pull out what the exceptions were so that you can understand their behaviour a little bit clearer.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (06:37)

And if you can work out what the recipe is, I use that word recipe for a really positive day for a young person, then share it with the teachers, parents, the psychologists. And everybody will then be on the same page about what's working for that young person and that's key. And then it's finding out how everyone can contribute to make sure every day is as good as it can be for that young person. And also, how you're going to share your praise or your feedback to the young person as well so that they know that they're doing well.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (07:09)

And that could be up to three times a day, a quick check in. Because if you leave it for too long and you're waiting till the end of the week to give some feedback to the young person or the end of the day, that's often too long. If you can do three quick feedbacks during the day, that's typically how teachers would do it after a case conference to say, "You're doing great. I love the way you did this. That's exactly what I'm looking for." Kids will really appreciate it. And you'll see some very positive behavioural changes.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (07:38)
Now, we've talked a little bit about case conferences and regular weekly contact with the teacher. If you have a particular concern that you'd like some feedback on, it's really good to give the teacher at least a week to give you some feedback. Don't expect a response on the spot, but just respectfully asking them to keep an eye on one particular thing.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (07:59)
Any particular issues that could be social issues. How is she going with this particular person? How does she interact with other teachers? What sort of games is she playing? Whatever your concern is, give the teacher at least a week to increase their supervision and give them time to form their own opinion because they may not have even noticed. It may not be a concern for them.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (08:20)
That doesn't mean that it's not happening, but it just gives them a week to observe the young person. And once they've formed their opinion, they've got some data to feedback to you, then check in the following week, whether that's in person or via or email. So that you can get some feedback without necessarily feeling like it's a big issue. It's just about a check in and some feedback. Keep it quite light.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (08:43)
Now let's hear from our next listener. They're asking, "What questions should I ask and what should I expect in return?" That's a good question because I think sometimes when we go to parent-teacher interviews, particularly for primary school kids, there's a lot of feedback coming from the teachers. There's usually quite a lot of content that they want to get through. It could be they're going through their maths workbook and where their ranking in the class or showing you a test that they've completed and where they're up to in terms of their skills. Often there's a lot of listening when it comes to what the parent's role is.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (09:20)
But what sort of questions should you ask? Well, I think it's good to ask about what they see. What do you see happening in the playground? What do you see happening in the classroom for Sarah? It's quite a broad, open question, but it's just giving the opportunity for the teacher to give you a general overview because you don't necessarily want to pinpoint an issue if you just want the teacher's feedback. What they see in the classroom might be that Sarah is moving around like social butterfly and they have no concerns around her social skills. But it could be that there's some distractability or she takes a long time to get started with her work. Whatever those issues are, it's great to just start off with a very broad question.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (10:08)
What do you see in the classroom? Or what do you see in the playground? The kind of response I would expect in return is not something like, "Oh, she's good or she's doing well." But if you can ask for a little bit more detail. You can ask them to, "Can you describe what you see? Because I really want to be in your shoes. I want to imagine I'm seeing what you are seeing."

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (10:29)
Hopefully, the teacher would then give you quite a detailed description of where she's playing. Is she circling around the outer edges of the playground, or is she right in the middle of it? Is she socially aware? Does she walk in the middle of a handball court or a soccer field and put herself at risk of being hit by a ball? Is she good at turn taking, playing by the rules? How does she go with winning and losing? They're the sorts of responses you can expect in return from a teacher when you ask, "What do you see?"

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (11:01)
And then again, if you have any particular concerns, I will put it in writing. I recommend doing a quick email to say, "I'm really concerned about Sam's hand, eye coordination. Or how's he going in PE or physical education?" That you can specifically put that in a very brief email. Not a lengthy one because teachers are very busy. They don't have time to read the whole background and even peruse previous reports.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (11:27)
My suggestion would be to just cut to the chase. One or two quick questions, or at least one issue that you'd like them to give you some feedback on it. And that way, the teacher will have time to give you that feedback. But also, yeah, you won't be burdening them with too much information because that's probably not necessary when it comes to getting their opinion.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (11:51)
Now, when it comes to getting the teacher's opinion and asking them to describe what they see in the classroom or the playground, it's something that psychologists do quite often. I know we do it at the Quirky Kid Clinic, and that is offer a school observation. Parents will pay us to go to the school and to sit in the classroom for half an hour or in the playground, that's included in the same observation. You can do a comparison between indoors and outdoors, which often tells you which environment the young person is most comfortable.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (12:23)
It also gives you a really good opportunity to compare how this particular child that you're watching compares to other children of the same age. Are they equally as active, equally as social?. Are they on the outskirts of the circle? It's a really good opportunity just to consider where they are in terms of their age comparison so that you can see whether or not they're on par with their peers socially, behaviourally, and emotionally.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (12:53)
Even understanding how they react when things don't go their way, finding out are they resilient, or do they become quite defensive? What are those reactions like so that you can then have a think about how you might manage that at home. Or how you can work with the teacher to use the same strategies across home and school.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (13:14)
That would be the role of the psychologist to help you to develop those strategies and then to share them with the parent and the teacher after having some really nice feedback in a case conference. And then, you pretty much set four to six weeks for everyone to put some of those strategies into practice. And then check back in, in six weeks to say, "How did that go?". Then everyone can say, "Well, I noticed this one's now an issue. Or everything's resolved. No further concerns." That's why it's important to understand what the teacher's seeing to develop those strategies, put them into action, and then to check back and review it.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (13:56)
If you're not already seeing a psychologist, but you think there might be some room to help your young person, you can either contact us at the Quirky Kid Clinic, which is quirkykid.com.au. We do Skype calls and wee also do telephone consultations for clients at a distance. We also do school holiday programs, so if people are traveling into Sydney, we can offer small group programs to develop social skills or to manage anxiety.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (14:24)
If you'd like to find out more about the Quirky Kid programs, there's one called The Best of Friends, which is an award-winning program. And it's based on a craft activity book. Or the BaseCamp program, which is our anxiety program. Which is also an award-winning program because it's beautifully designed. And the activities are age appropriate for children age seven to twelve years.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (14:49)
It's very engaging and it's also been tested to see that it's evidence based by the University of Wollongong. That's the Best of Friends program and BaseCamp is currently under review as well. There's lots happening at Quirky Kid. If you're interested in a program, go to quirkykid.com.au and check out programs.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (15:12)
Now the next question from a listener is, "What if a young person doesn't want you to communicate with a teacher?" Well, this is quite common when kids are over the age of 12 years and they've entered high school, and the idea of a parent waiting after class to communicate with the teacher is their worst nightmare and that should be respected. And communication can be done in that case with the year co-ordinator. And the year coordinator is the person that pulls together all the feedback from the individual teachers.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (15:46)

You should still get to hear from each teacher, but the year co-ordinator is the one that will pull that together. And how to do that on a regular basis. I would recommend about once every six weeks to check in with the year coordinator if you have any concerns. If you don't, then most parents will wait for the parent-teacher interviews. But feedback from parents is that often parent-teacher interviews are very rushed and teachers struggle to keep to time because there's so many kids to talk about.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (16:14)

And when one parent arrives slightly late, then of course, their schedules, they're not very effective. The best thing to do is too, again, just put your concerns in writing. Because if they're in writing, you can also come back to that at a later date if you need to. To say, "Look, I've contacted you on the 12th of the third, 12th of March and I haven't heard anything back in response. I'm just letting you know that I'm still concerned about this."

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (16:39)

If there's still no response, then I would recommend going to the assistant principal to let them know that you've contacted the year co-ordinator a couple of times, haven't heard back. Could you ask them to check in to see whether everything's okay with this particular issue?

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (16:53)

I'd also encourage young people if they are concerned about anything. It could be a social issue or a teacher yelling or too much homework. Whatever their concern is, if you can encourage them to put their concerns on paper or to write an email, that's better than having a parent do the work on the child's behalf. Teaching independence and encouraging them to share what their concerns are directly with the teacher is usually the best way to create a positive teacher-student relationship. That's another way to go about it.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (17:29)

And if the student doesn't get the response that they're looking for, then that's just more information you can pass on to the assistant principal. "This happened on this date. I contacted this person on that date. Now I'd like to hear your opinion on this matter," because having things in writing and having dates attached is a good way to keep records in order, and for young people, it's a great way to show them how you can advocate for them and resolve issues by looking for solutions.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (18:05)

It's not about listing all the problems, but listing ways that you think solutions can be found to address whatever your concerns are. Teachers will really appreciate it as well in my experience. They want to help in 99.9% of cases. And if you find that you do get a negative response or not the response you are looking for, this has happened in my experience too. That parents will come to see a psychologist because they're considering changing schools, which is the last straw.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (18:37)

I would suggest that every attempt should be made to sustain the placement of the student at the same school. Because if you do start looking at different schools, then as I said in the earlier part of the episode, that can really undermine the student's commitment to the school. They'll start to maybe even tell their friends they might be changing schools. That just means that they might not want to hand their homework in. Please do try everything you possibly can to maintain that placement at the school before you start looking at other options.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (19:13)

And certainly, do try to always speak positively about the teachers and the school in front of the young person because you do not want to have your young person with divided loyalties. They really like the school, they really like their friends, they really like their teachers. But if parents are not happy with them, it leaves them in a real bind because obviously, they trust your opinion. And then they're not sure if they are in a good place.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (19:38)

As soon as they start to question their placement at the school, that's just a whole lot of extra focus that's coming away from their academics and their social life. And it's focusing on something that is really an adult issue when it comes to researching other schools. That should be done completely separate to the young person.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (20:00)

It's only if you are 100% serious about changing schools that then you would involve the young person in that process. And that's something you should talk about as a family, not before you've tried absolutely everything to maintain that placement in their current school.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (20:15)

The reason it's not great to change schools regularly is because students are like plants. They want to put down their roots. Establish a really firm network within their school community they can use as a support network. They have their family as a support network, but the school is also a huge support network for a young person. The idea of changing schools is a massive move.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (20:39)

It's best to try and, yeah, resolve the issues because that's also a good way to show your young person that you can resolve issues. And there's usually a solution to every situation. It's just a matter of putting your heads together and trying to find your way through. And being committed to resolving that issue is a really important skill to teach a young person. I'd encourage you to do that.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (21:03)

Okay. We're going to wrap it up for this session on parent-teacher communications. We'll do more episodes on this particular topic in the future because it is a popular issue. We get a lot of referrals around this. And we have a lot of success when it comes to talking to schools and making sure parents are happy to maintain that placement.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (21:26)

If you'd like to have a Quirky Kid psychologist involved in supporting your parent-teacher relationship, please do go to quirkykid.com au. You can book online or you can drop us an email at support@quirkykid.com.au. We would absolutely love to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed this episode. This was Impressive.

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