Connecting with Parents

Lisa Krenz Reaching Every Child Leave a Comment

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Parents are scary, especially when you’re a new teacher. Even if you are a veteran teacher who is also a parent, dealing with parents can be intimidating. Thanks to our inherent sinful nature, the parent-teacher relationship can be fraught with judgments and unmet expectations from both sides. When children have special needs or are struggling in some way, these parent-teacher waters can be even more treacherous, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly, it is not the way God wants us to live. Psalm 133:1 (ESV) reminds us how life works best: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” This is especially true when we are unified for the sake of a child. In any interaction with parents, start from the assumption that you are both on the same team, unified in the purpose of caring for, nurturing, and helping their child learn and grow.

Always begin with prayer. Include the Lord, the ultimate lover and creator of children, on your team. As you prepare to meet with a child’s parents, go to the Lord in prayer, asking for wisdom, discernment, and appropriate words. When you meet with parents, begin that meeting in prayer together, asking the Lord to be with you, guiding your discussion and decision-making for the child that the Lord loves even more than you do.

Right after the prayer, share positive attributes and accomplishments of the child. Let parents know you cherish their child and see their child’s strengths, not just the child’s deficits. In order to work effectively together, parents need to know that you see their child as a whole person, not just a jumble of problems that are causing you more work.

While you are the expert on child development, academic skills, and behavior management, the parent is the expert on their child. Most of the time, that parent has been with the child from the beginning, long before you appeared on the scene, and they will be with the child long after the child is out of your classroom. Make sure the parents knows you respect their role in the child’s life. Even say it out loud: “Mr. or Mrs. X, you have been with little Johnny from the beginning. You’ve taught him so many things.” I know some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, that’s the problem! They’ve taught this child all the wrong things.” Resist the urge to let that thought escape your brain or seep into the sound of your voice. While it might be true in rare instances, saying it out loud or letting those negative thoughts color your conversation does nothing to help your team to work effectively for the child. You might have to face the fact that perhaps you, too, have made mistakes when dealing with the child. Biblical principals apply here as well. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 (ESV) remind us why we shouldn’t go it alone: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Inevitably, we will fail in regards to this child and so will his or her parent, but together we can support each other.

Because most parents aren’t experts in teaching math or reading, and some may have even struggled with these same areas in school, offer very specific suggestions for what to do at home. If you want them to practice sight words, explain how to do that. If you want them to read fifteen minutes a night, give them books to read and describe how to do that. Don’t assume that they know how to practice spelling words or math facts; tell them what you want them to do. Share specific work samples and any other data you’ve collected with the parents. If behavior is the issue, have specific data that demonstrates the duration and intensity of the problem. Saying, “little Johnny is disrupting class” just isn’t enough.

Remember, they may be seeing these same problems at home and also struggling to deal with them. Parents may initially feel defensive or at fault for the problems their child is having. It’s typical for parents to view their child’s success or failure as a reflection on them (thus the treacherous waters). It’s always a good idea to first ask, “What are you seeing at home? What do you see as your child’s strengths? Do you see your child struggling with anything?” Give parents time to share and make sure you actively listen. Remember, the parent should be your partner, not your opponent. Always emphasize building from a child’s strengths to help remediate or improve weaker areas.

Getting or giving negative information about a child is never easy, particularly if it’s the beginning of what might be a lifelong issue (or at least a school-long issue). It’s not your job as teacher to make a diagnosis. Be careful not to make your amateur diagnosis out loud, particularly when it comes to things like ADHD or autism that must be diagnosed by a medical professional. It’s your job to collect and report data and share specific examples. Even if a parent asks you directly if you think their child has a specific disorder, defer to the professionals. Say, “I don’t know, I’m not a doctor” or “Let’s get some more information from the formal assessments.” Many areas of special needs have overlapping characteristics, so making any kind of diagnosis can be challenging. When asked by parents, it’s better to reflect and, instead of making a guess, merely describe the child’s skills or behaviors in relation to other children the same age to give parents some points for comparison. If you are a first-grade teacher at the beginning of the year, an example would be, “Well, Johnny can tell me the letters in his name and write them, but most children his age can identify and write all the letters of the alphabet and know the sounds they make.” Does that mean he has a reading disability? Probably, but let the evaluation team decide.

If you recommend a child for testing, does that mean you want them out of your school or classroom? No, it means you want more information on how that child learns best and a more definitive picture of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. If a child gets an evaluation from the public school and it is determined that the child has a disability that qualifies them for an IEP, that does not necessarily mean they have to leave your school. It does, however, mean they are eligible to receive services from the public school. Those services may be provided before or after school or during the school day. Those details would be worked out between your school, the local district, and the parents. Reassure parents that getting an evaluation doesn’t mean you are trying to get rid of their child; it means you want more information that will allow you to teach their child more effectively.

Yes, dealing with parents can be scary. But it can also be a very rewarding and enriching part of the teaching ministry.

“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–10 ESV)


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About the Author

Lisa Krenz

Lisa Krenz is an editor at Concordia Publishing House. She has almost thirty years of experience in Lutheran schools as a special education teacher, consultant, and parent. Even though it’s taken many forms, reaching every child with the Gospel has been her passion from the beginning. She lives with her husband, Stephen, and two teen-age children, Joel and Anna, in Hoffman, Illinois, where her husband is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and School. You can read her latest posts here.

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