A solid foundation

Building a good working relationship is essential for both student and teacher. Writer Janhabi Nandy shares the cocktail for success

It’s important for both parents and students to have a good relationship with respect to school, reflects Susan Mancini, director and principal of Mindware Academy, which caters to students Grades 1 to 8 with learning disabilities and challenges in social skills and self-regulation.

Susan Mancini. Photo Courtesy Mindware Academy

Particularly after pandemic-driven disruptions to schooling, says Mancini, “parents encouraging and modeling positive dialogue within the home about school, focusing on the positive side of the school day” helps establish a positive view of school. Mancini recommends parents “develop a healthy relationship with the teacher and model that relationship so the child makes those thoughts their own and they bring that dialogue with them when they go to school.”

Revel Academy founder Erin Anderson agrees. Students are influenced by “how parents are talking about the teacher at home,” she says. At Revel Academy, the emphasis is on “everybody treat[ing] everybody with respect,” says Anderson. “The way they talk to each other and to everybody should be with a culture of kindness. Respect should be there from the get-go.”

Meanwhile, over at St. Laurent Academy, “getting to know kids outside of classroom is a big deal for staff,” says Kate Wigston, vice-principal, Grades 7 to 12. This can lead to the building of relationships, similar to those with friends and family. “Having that basis of trust and respect and openness to build on leads to very open communication,” she says.

The three leaders unanimously recommend that parents reach out to teachers proactively. Mancini says, “It’s important for parents to introduce themselves and reach out at the beginning of school year, so the teacher knows you are there and can follow through if needed.” Wigston notes that the school hosts an open house at the beginning of the year to establish that “parents should have full access; an open-door relationship between parents and teachers is very important.” She recommends that “parents should be proactive, like sending a note at the start of the school year to say here is my email address, feel free to reach out for anything.”  Anderson proposes that parents, “send an appreciation worksheet with your child on the first day of school asking the teacher their favorite colours, their favourite coffee, if there any life-changing plans that they want to share, if they are allergic to chocolate, for example.” It helps establish a positive relationship with the teacher, acknowledging their individuality, and can inform personalized appreciation during the rest of the year.

Should problems arise, the leaders emphasize the importance of the students being involved in problem solving. “Parents should empower their kids to take the communication role,” says Anderson. “Teaching a kid to advocate for themselves is so important. If the student is not feeling heard or the problem continues to happen or there is a lot of anxiety, the parent could join with the student and the teacher. But the student has a voice and can use it and is valued.”

Give your child space to learn to grow and problem solve independently and support as needed, says Mancini, and develop communication and advocacy skills at home to reach the goal of independent communication. “If you do that really young, students can develop that at an early age and often earlier than parents think,” she says. “Involving the child in the process works really well, even at Grade 1 and up.”

How to do this is simple: Mancini suggestions that parents bring their child in for a chat as a team, “be that with staff or with parents or all together.”

Problem solving requires good communication skills. Wigston observes that at St. Laurent Academy, they instil the confidence and ability to know they can speak to their teachers; and work hard to teach students how to write an effective email to advocate for themselves when needed. 

If there does arise a challenging situation that needs to be resolved, Mancini recommends patience.

“My office is a problem-solving zone, not a disciplinary zone,” Mancini says. “I’m there to work with students, not work against them. Problem solving collaboratively, as most schools are trying to do, doesn’t always work the first time and problems might not be solved right away. We keep working on it.”