Clash of the titans

Communication knocks down barriers of disagreements between parents and teachers, educators say

Communication is everything when it comes to interacting with your child’s teacher.

For Turnbull School director Gareth Reid, it’s important to build relationships between parents and teachers.

“Communication and respect on both sides are very important,” says Reid. “It really is all about building rapport so you can easily talk to your child’s teacher – they have your child’s best interests at heart.” Reid says that there are three pieces to consider – school, home and student and active participation is essential between all three. “It’s understood that parents are invested in their child’s education and we encourage parents to reach out if they see something about their child that concerns them.” Reid says that teachers are professionals who are also invested in the education of their students, but it’s from a different perspective than parents. “Frame your disagreement as a discussion,” suggests Reid. “Be open and honest and you’ll find it more productive.” At Turnbull School, many of the students will be with the school for years, so it’s vital to keep that relationship healthy and thriving, he says.

Gareth Reid.

“It’s about communication, 100 percent,” agrees Colleen Long, head of elementary at St.- Laurent Academy. “We’re in constant communication with families. We start building that communication during the first two weeks of classes and it continues throughout the school year.” Long is responsible for students from kindergarten to Grade 8. She emphasizes how important it is, even from the early grades, to include students in any discussion. “Having the student involved is so important,” she says. “It helps them feel comfortable when they have a problem or there is an issue, that they can come forward with it and the parent and teacher can help find a solution.” Long had two students – one in Grade 3, the other in Grade 5 – who were working on their friendship-building skills. She says that the two students felt comfortable putting forward their own solution to their respective teachers. “They knew they could come forward,” says Long, “so they did. They created a Kindness Club with a CEO and a CFO – a Chief Fun Officer – and it worked because everyone was working together and being supportive.”

Long understands that occasionally the teacher might have a strategy that is new or different from that of a parent, but with open discussion and solid communication, they can come up with a plan that works for everyone.

“Have those discussions with your child’s teacher so there are no surprises and know that you, your child’s teacher and your child are all part of the solution,” she says. Long also said that at St.-Laurent Academy, they view this relationship, the classrooms, and the grades as a ‘team’ – it’s built into their school language, their school character, and their ethos.

Mary Donaghy, superintendent of Elementary Student Success with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, would agree that communication is key. “Call your child’s teacher and have a discussion about your concerns,” says Donaghy. “If you’re not satisfied, and the issue isn’t resolved over the phone, make an appointment to meet your child’s teacher in person.” Usually, says Donaghy, a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher can help you understand each other’s position and come up with a resolution. “If there is still a disagreement,” says Donaghy, “the parents’ next step would be to contact your school’s vice-principal, if there is one, or reach out to the principal. And if there is still a concern, call the superintendent of the school.”

Mary Donaghy.

The bottom line? Be respectful, build a relationship with your child’s teacher and work as a team – your child included. “Sometimes there can be difficult conversations,” says Reid, “but keeping that communication open and honest is the best way for a positive outcome.”