Want a positive and successful school year for your kids? Forging strong partnerships with their teachers is key! I asked educators to share some of the best ways parents can work alongside them, and here are the top 10 things they said teachers want parents to know.
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“Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers.”
A former teacher I know told parents this every year, and I could not agree more. Not only does it remind us of the vital role we play in our kids’ education, it also builds a foundation of productive parent/teacher relationships.
I’m the daughter of a teacher, and I grew up watching her heart and passion. Teaching isn’t something she does; it’s something she is. Even (semi)-retired, she can’t help but impart knowledge wherever and however she can.
I also grew up witnessing the impact parents had on both their kids’ academic experience and on her, as their teacher. I saw how her spirits were buoyed or deflated by their words and actions, and it profoundly impacted the way I have related to my own kids’ teachers.
Over the years, I’ve seen an unfortunate amount of animosity between parents and teachers. Far too many parents view teachers as the enemy. It’s easy to paint a picture of “us vs. them”, but I can tell you, this is not what any teacher wants. Teachers care about their students, and they want to work alongside you to do what’s best for them.
Education and positive parent/teacher relationships have always been near and dear to my heart. These passions have only increased now that I have kids of my own in school. From the crossroads of these desires, then, came the idea to create a resource to cultivate partnerships between parents and teachers as we pursue a common goal of a positive and successful school year for our kids.
I took an informal survey of teachers I know, asking them to share ways parents can work in tandem with teachers. I received enthusiastic responses from teachers eager to promote a win-win-win relationship between students, parents, and teachers.
I compiled and condensed those responses into this list of the top 10 things teachers want parents to know. (Read to the end for a powerful poem that perfectly expresses the heart behind this post!)
Top 10 Things Teachers Want Parents to Know
I received replies from a mix of elementary and secondary educators in a variety of school settings and subject areas. I noticed common threads woven throughout the responses, but each had something unique to add, as well. Here are the top ten things these teachers said they want parents to know:
1. Talk to us!
Topping the list of things teachers want parents to know is how much they want us to communicate with them. Nearly every teacher I surveyed stressed this. Parents, teachers want us to talk to them! And too few of us do, whether because we don’t want to bother them, we think they won’t care, or we’re flat-out angry with them.
But nothing fosters healthy parent/teacher relationships like communication, and nothing erodes it like a lack of it. As one teacher said, “If your kids know we are working as a team, things run so much more smoothly!”
What do they want you to talk to them about? Here are a few topics mentioned:
General information about your child
Teachers are invested in your child’s success. Telling him/her about how your child feels about school, any fears, medical conditions, favorite (and dreaded) subjects or topics, or anything else you feel is important guides the teacher in educating and caring for your child at school.
Here’s what some of the teachers had to say:
“I ask parents at the beginning of the year to tell me all about their child in a form I send home. Some parents write a paragraph, some pages! I love it all and value every piece of input. Parents know their child best, so I place this information in a binder and refer to it throughout the year.”
“Share your concerns and specific info about your child. Teachers want to partner with you! The better and more specific the communication between the parent and teacher, the better the chances for truly meeting the child’s needs. Don’t worry about “bugging” the teacher—teachers appreciate frequent communication.”
“Some parents chose to write a letter to me about their child, which I loved. I referred to it often throughout the year. These letters got me excited about my students as “people”, not just students, and helped me be proactive in squelching fears, building self-confidence, and giving me something to initiate conversations.”
Life events, family issues, and struggles
School and home life are not separate; they affect each other. Teachers are often unaware, however, of events that have happened outside of school. It’s helpful for them to know (in a general sense, at least) about anything that has happened in a student’s personal life that may effect his/her well-being in the classroom.
“A dog dying, a grandma in the hospital, or being up with a headache all night is helpful information and will help the teacher make adjustments with compassion and importance.”
I found this perspective especially reassuring. (Remember, many teachers are parents, too!)
“Sometimes parents just need to hear that I will give their child a little extra TLC that day because the shouting match that took place in the morning has left them feeling guilty. Parenting is hard, and teachers get that!”
Questions inevitably pop up throughout the school year. Don’t hesitate to ask!
“Remember, when you want to ask the teacher something, no question is a ‘dumb’ question. I get that a lot. ‘This might be a dumb question, but…’ No, it’s not! Really! I am a mom, and I get it. If it is on your mind, let me know.”
If your child tells you something that doesn’t sit right with your or upsets you, talk directly to the teacher about it. There’s usually a logical explanation, and sometimes it’s a simple misunderstanding.
Remember, kids often have an “interesting” version of events. As one teacher diplomatically advised, “believe half of what your kid tells you about us, and we’ll do the same about you.”
Ask your child more questions to clarify, express your concerns with the teacher, and then go to the administration if the issue is not resolved. But resist the urge to vent or complain on social media. That doesn’t solve anything and only further divides parents and teachers.
“If you have a concern, no matter how big or small, please let us know. Please talk to your child’s teacher before going to the administration. Sometimes concerns are just a misunderstanding and can easily be resolved with a conference with the teacher. We cannot fix problems we know nothing about! “
Bottom line: communication is key.
“PLEASE answer your child’s teacher when he/she reaches out to you. Whether it is an email, a call, a text, or an invitation to attend parent-teacher conferences, please respond to the teacher because your input is so valuable!”
2. Read to your kids
Nipping at communication’s heels in the list of things teachers want parents to know is the importance of reading. Across the board, from elementary to high school, almost every teacher stressed the importance of reading to kids, with kids, and in front of kids.
But keep it light and fun! Reading at home should be something to enjoy, not dread. As one teacher stated, “It shouldn’t feel like an assignment needing to read each day. It’s an amazing time to snuggle, bond, go on journeys through the stories, etc.”
Another teacher reminded, “Teachers will work on the “how” of reading; parents can work on developing the joy and love of it! Reading together with your child fosters a great bond and positive thoughts around reading.”
Related Post: 9 Practical Tips for Reading to Your Kids
Here are some more quotes from teachers about reading at home:
“Shut off the TV and read! I know this is easier said than done, but if parents could only see the benefits down the road, they would make this a priority. This includes daddies too! I have had many students get turned on to reading when their dad becomes involved.”
“As you read, ask, ‘Who are the characters? What is the setting? What do you think will happen next? If you were the main character, what would you do differently?’”
“Expose your child to a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Read chapter books! Children’s listening comprehension is much higher than reading comprehension.”
Related Post: Our Favorite Chapter Books for Read-Alouds
“Read to your kids! Model your own reading as well. Reading can help children to develop understanding for others who are not like them, encourage imagination, and load them with lots of knowledge!”
“My parents (both teachers) would get the rundown of upcoming units from my teachers and buy books or check out library books related to those topics to encourage us to read. I got hooked early, and to this day, I think books make the best (and some of the cheapest, honestly!) gifts.”
“Read poetry to build word play skills, memory skills, etc. Read books that are BELOW their reading level so they can develop fluency skills, like following punctuation, using inflection in their voice, phrasing etc. Read books ON or AT their reading level and ask questions to guide their comprehension, not just literal comprehension, but inference questions, too. And read to your child ABOVE their reading comprehension so you can discuss/develop vocabulary, your own reading comprehension strategies, etc.”
3. Teach and develop skills at home
Teachers also want to urge parents to build skills at home. One of the biggest areas to develop is organizational skills. One teacher told me, “Oftentimes, my students struggle with learning because they struggle with organization, and this can be modeled at home.” Establish a routine and an organized system at home, and stick to it!
Related Post: How to Have Stress-Free School Mornings
With younger kids, work on practical skills such as tying shoes, zipping and loading backpacks, putting on shoes and jackets, opening lunch containers and wrappers, washing hands, using the restroom, taking care of eyeglasses, etc.
“All of these things seem easy to adults, but are skills that need to be taught. Teachers will encourage student independence and will NOT do these things for each child. Children have a wide range of needs, and obviously some need more support than others, but working toward independence is always the goal. Practicing self-help skills will better prepare each child for the classroom setting.”
For kids of all ages, cultivate perseverance and emotional regulation skills.
“Allow your kiddos to see you struggle at something. Model how you persevere to encourage a growth mindset. Praise them when you see them working hard and persisting!”
“Show your children how you regulate your emotions. This will help them in developing friendships as well as creating a headspace for learning. For example, ‘I’m feeling a little upset right now, so I’m going to take a few deep belly breaths and come back to this later when I have a clear head’ or ‘I’m feeling a little anxious, so I’m going to go for a walk.’”
Related Post: 7 Calm Down Strategies For Moms
4. Love on your kids
“Children who are loved at home come to school ready to learn.” This quote shows the importance of nurturing our kids’ hearts at home and the effect it has on their academic success. Practically speaking, we do this by taking an interest in their studies (and their lives, in general!), asking questions, listening to them, affirming their abilities, and spending quality time with them.
I love this after-school conversation starter tip:
“Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’ and hearing the same answer, ‘Fine,’ try asking open-ended questions such as, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’”
5. Speak positively in front of your kids
Kids take their cues from our language and attitude. Much of the way they think and feel about their education comes from us. Knowing that, several teachers stressed the importance of speaking positively about school, teachers, decisions, and learning in front of kids. Kids are always listening, and how we talk matters.
As this elementary teacher pointed out:
“The way parents talk about the teacher comes out in how the child thinks/acts towards the teacher (and in elementary, we find out).”
6. Be proactive
Be proactive about any issues that arise in your kids’ education. This doesn’t mean being a “helicopter parent”, constantly hovering and swooping in to rescue your kids. It means being involved and interested; not waiting until the teacher approaches you, but keeping your eyes open to how your kids are doing.
If you have online access to their grades, use it! That’s what it’s there for. And you know your child better than the teacher, so you are the best person to spot an issue early before it develops into a full-blown problem.
7. Fuel their bodies
Teachers also want parents to know how important sleep and nutrition are to kids’ academic experience. As one teacher said, “Grumpy, tired students are not attentive learners.” She listed healthy habits (among other topics already listed above) as being “more important for school success than any specific academic task.”
Here are a couple more quotes:
“Elementary students need 9-11 hours of sleep each night (per the National Sleep Foundation). Parents need to think about balancing after-school / evening activities with the appropriate amount of sleep. I have had YOUNG students involved in multiple activities each week. Each child is different, but it is OK to limit activities!”
“I understand hectic mornings! The dry pop tart is better than nothing (no judgment–I’ve done it!) but a nutritious breakfast will do wonders for a child’s attention during the prime, morning learning hours. A favorite of children in my own family: egg muffins—Make them with eggs, milk, veggies of choice, sausage, bacon, & cheese. Bake in individual muffin tin cups, then freeze. In the mornings, grab from the freezer & pop into the microwave for a nutritious start to the day!”
Related Post: 12 Healthy Make-Ahead Breakfasts for Smoother Mornings
8. Minimize screen time
You saw this coming, right? It’s not something we always like to hear, but to help our kids in the classroom, we need to decrease the screen time at home. Teachers see the effects of that screen time in the classroom, and they know first-hand that large amounts of screen time:
- inhibit verbal communication
- promote instant gratification
- encourage isolation rather than collaboration
- shorten attention spans
- hinder ability to focus
- and more!
Related Post: 10 Screen-Free Educational Activities
While we certainly don’t need to cut it out completely (nor could we in today’s world!), it’s imperative that we set healthy limits.
“Companies/culture will promote apps, games, etc as “THE” thing to prepare your child academically. Not true! Although there is value in digital learning, NOTHING beats playing outside, getting muddy, exploring nature, making messes, being creative, and even being bored!”
9. Encourage self-advocacy
Not only should we, as parents, communicate with our kids’ teachers (see #1 above), but we should also teach and encourage our kids to advocate for themselves.
One teacher recommended that parents, “demonstrate and practice with [their kids] how to respectfully question their teacher if they think they have been treated unfairly.”
And here’s what another educator had to say:
“As a high school teacher, being able to have conversations directly with students about questions or struggles is so much more powerful for both of us than email conversations with a parent. It’s more empowering for your child to problem solve on their own, and it’s a life skill!”
10. A little appreciation goes a long way
Finally, in their lists of things teachers want parents to know, over half of the respondents mentioned how encouraged they are by simple expressions of appreciation. It doesn’t have to be anything big, fancy, or expensive! Simple tokens such as a note, email, or small gift go a long way.
By filling our teachers cups, we energize them to fill our kids’. So, if you want to partner with teachers, one of the best things you can do is simply say, “Thank you.”
“Small gifts really do brighten their day! If you find out their favorite pop or drink or snack/candy bar or gum and bring it in on a holiday or just “because”, it usually will be on a day they really need it and they will be super appreciative! Plus, it’s a cheap way of showing you appreciate them!”
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MORE Things Teachers Want Parents to Know
Much of what the surveyed teachers had to say fell into the broader categories listed above, but some did not. Valuable in their own right, I’m listing them here as stand-alone tips.
Focus on learning over grades
“One of the saddest things I notice by high school, often in high-achieving students, is a focus on playing the school game: working only to get the A, not caring about learning. Taking classes that challenge us sometimes means lower grades… But usually it also means more learning than the easy A route. Caring about learning also makes teachers partners to students rather than adversaries in the way of that A. To do encourage a focus on learning, you can use growth mindset comments instead of fixed, like encouraging the effort your child put in rather than praising a grade or how “smart” your child is.”
Bring non-messy snacks
“Non-messy snacks for their birthday is the best gift to a teacher! The cake that they have to cut (usually with a spoon or fork because knives are non-existent in schools) is so hard and messy! Casey’s can wrap cookies for each kid or are not messy in a box, or just those cheap cookies that each kid can get a few.”
Avoid “fun” pencils
“The fun pencils are super fun and cute, but they tear up the pencil sharpener that teachers have to get with their own money (I went through several in my years in the classroom). Send a pencil sharpener with your kid for those pencils and teach them to use the yellow pencils for the pencil sharpener.”
“Surround kids with books that not only reflect them and their experiences but also open windows into lives of diverse characters completely different than them.
This can also be encouraged through conversations: I still remember complaining in elementary school about a girl who was “mean” and my mom gently suggesting that maybe the girl didn’t have as happy a life as I did and that’s why she acted differently than I wanted. This lesson of working to empathize before judging has followed me and served me well as I consider how to respond to difficult people.”
Teach respect for the rules
“Help your child to understand that the teacher has the responsibility of setting and enforcing the rules of the classroom. The student may or may not agree with the rules; either way they are expected to follow them.”
Attend parent/teacher conferences
“Attend parent teacher conferences. Before you go, jot down any questions you want to ask.”
Before You Go, Read This!
Finally, I want to leave you with this poem shared with me by an educator of several decades. It perfectly expresses the exact purpose I wanted to accomplish with this blog post:
I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there
The clay they used was a young child’s mind
And they fashioned it with care.
One was a teacher-the tools she used
Were books, music, and art
The other, a parent, worked with a guided hand
And a gentle, loving heart.
Day after day, the teacher toiled with touch
That was careful, deft, and sure.
While the parent labored by his/her side
And polished and smoothed it over.
When at last their work was done,
They were proud of what they had wrought
For the things they had molded into a child
Could neither be sold or bought.
And each agreed they would have failed
If each had worked alone
For behind the parent stood the school,
And behind the teacher, the home.
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