March 2020. Seems like years ago, right? The pandemic was just getting underway, and we were getting our first taste of crisis homeschooling. There was so much uncertainty about when or if school would return to normal. Some 10 months later, the “crisis” aspect of our kids’ schooling is past, but things are far from normal. Perhaps your child is learning virtually, or a mask has become a regular school supply. Still, life rolls on. This year counts, even if 2020 was one big dumpster fire. So it’s imperative that we support our children’s education as best we can—and that includes cultivating the parent-teacher relationship, despite the challenges.
Reach out and communicate with your child’s teacher
How well do you know your kiddo’s teacher? Probably not as well as you did last year or the year before. Even if your child is back on campus right now, visits are limited to morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, or the occasional dash into the office.
Interactions with your child’s teacher are happening primarily online, creating a distance that’s not usually there. Even working parents who are occupied during school hours generally get some level of face time with their kiddo’s teacher.
If the lack of in-person interaction is tough for you, rest assured that it’s not easy for teachers, either. Every educator we chatted with confirmed that it’s harder to build rapport with families from afar, but teachers are doing what they can.
Jennifer Stover, who teaches kindergarten at Incarnation Academy in Dallas, has taken extra time since the pandemic began to make sure the parents of her students feel involved—sending weekly e-newsletters that include classroom photos. “Technology has become a better friend to all of us during the pandemic,” she says of the power of virtual connection.
But virtual learning can clearly pose challenges, particularly with little ones. If you’re busy all day with work, it’s virtually impossible to sit in front of the computer with your child for any extended period and guide them through lessons.
Priscila Dilley, senior officer of the Leadership Academy Network—a partnership between Texas Wesleyan University and Fort Worth ISD—says her team recognized that constraint, and turned to more basic technological tools to ensure kids could navigate their lessons without a lot of assistance.
“For us, we just said all the learning has to be on a PowerPoint from start to finish, where kids can just click on it, and they know where to click, where you can just make it super easy,” explains Dilley.
If your child is struggling through complex platforms, Dilley recommends that you consult the teacher on how you can support your child being able to do the work on their own. “Parents need to advocate for something where what’s expected from the child is very clear,” she says. “I would say to really connect with the school and make sure you have a good understanding of what the teacher is wanting and how the teacher is wanting it. Develop a relationship where you can say, ‘Hey, this is not working for me. Help me.’ Keep asking for help, because this is new for everybody. Extend yourself some grace.”
Jamie St. Peter has three children at Fort Worth’s Trinity Valley School. She also sees grace as the key to parents and teachers co-existing in an unusual year. “Of course there have been challenges not meeting with my kids’ teachers in person, but I think we all have to adapt,” St. Peter points out. “And the teachers have been working harder than ever, and have been nothing short of amazing. Anytime I have needed to connect, I found teachers extremely open and willing to do so.”
Stacy Mullikin, the mother of twins who attend elementary school in Highland Park ISD, agrees. “I have been shocked at how good the virtual experience has been,” she says. “The times that we have had to be virtual due to COVID-19 exposure in the classroom, I am overhearing school throughout the day—and I feel more connected with the teacher than I ever have.”
Mullikin’s brief trips to campus have also enhanced the parent-teacher relationship. “The teachers are more attentive than ever,” she notes. “And [because of masks,] they’re making even more of an effort to have great eye-contact with the parents.”
It’s a simple technique that has real benefits. And the best way to support the efforts of your kids’ teachers is also simple: “If you have to pick anything [to work on with your children during this unusual year], I would say reading, reading, reading,” Dilley advises. “If they master anything else, that’s just icing on the cake. Read to your kids, read with your kids. Make sure they’re reading themselves. Foster that love of reading, because that’s the foundation for everything.”
Show your support, virtually and otherwise
For many moms and dads, volunteering has traditionally provided an avenue to both get to know their child’s teacher and convey their support. At Armstrong Elementary, the Highland Park ISD campus Mullikin’s daughters attend, parents are allowed to volunteer only in the cafeteria.
And for many schools, even the cafeteria is a no-go. Some schools, including Armstrong, are offering virtual volunteer opportunities (reading to the class or one-on-one tutoring, for example) as well as livestreaming class parties and events to keep parents feeling connected.
“The kids love this and so do the parents,” shares Vanessa Ayoub, president of Armstrong Elementary’s PTA. “Overall, the school year has gone exceptionally well considering this new norm.”
In addition to reaching out about any virtual volunteer opportunities and participating in virtual events, you can enhance your bond with your child’s teacher by making sure they know how appreciated they are.
Ayoub sends little goodies to her four children’s teachers every month, but expressing your appreciation could be as simple as a handwritten note sent to school in your child’s folder. “These small things have ensured a better relationship and established a friendship and trust between our teachers and our family,” Ayoub explains. “I subscribe to the model of kindness and genuine interest. Teachers are always responsive when you care about them and show respect.”
A Counselor’s Tips
Lana Raley, the counselor at Bradfield Elementary in Highland Park ISD, shares things for parents to keep in mind as they seek to enhance the relationship with their child’s teacher.
Know you’re not alone in this situation. “This is definitely a challenge that everyone is experiencing,” Raley says. And not just parents—know that teachers are feeling the pressure too. “I feel right now that teachers are stressed and overwhelmed. In many cases they are trying to teach online and in person at the same time. Teachers are also missing the personal connection with their students’ parents.”
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Yes, teachers may be stressed and overworked. But your child is the reason they do what they do. So if there are any concerns or you just want to touch base, “parents should be comfortable requesting a virtual conference at any time,” Raley explains.
Get creative in your involvement. “Everyone is having to reimagine how to do things we have done [in person] in the past,” Raley notes. “Think outside the box for ways to be involved.” If you can think of a way you can be an asset to your teacher while socially distancing, let them know.
Image courtesy of iStock.