How important is cooperation in creating effective collaboration between teachers and parents?
Jane Cofie: Cooperation is a key component in an effective partnership between teachers and parents. It begins with establishing a strong communication structure that allows both teacher and parent to hear one another’s thoughts and see each other as essential and valuable pieces in supporting the student’s success. This then gives way to meaningfully collaborative conversations that seek to highlight strengths, accomplishments, and progress, in addition to conversations in which all parties involved work together to navigate challenges.
What are some of the biggest challenges when establishing cooperation between parents and teachers?
JC: There are different factors that can make connecting with parents to foster a collaborative partnership more difficult to navigate. Challenges can arise with anything from scheduling conflicts to language barriers, miscommunications to differing perceptions of school. Challenges can make cooperation with parents tough and, at times, discouraging. I think one of the more difficult challenges to navigate is establishing effective and positive communication. Communication is central to establishing a cooperative partnership. In order for communication to be effective, the form of communication needs to work well for both the parent and teacher and foster opportunities to be able to hear one another’s thoughts. Positive communication is built early and is strengthened throughout the year, allowing both the teacher and parent to cultivate a relationship in which they continue to get to know one another better as they work toward supporting the student. Effective and positive communication can require more work with some parents than others, and it can be easier in some years than others. But in all situations, effective and positive communication is worthwhile.
What advice do you have for teachers who face challenges when establishing cooperation with parents?
JC: When faced with challenges in establishing a cooperative connection with parents, taking a moment to step back and reassess the connection can be helpful. This provides an opportunity to consider what components might be missing or need adjusting, determine when miscommunication might have occurred, and discern possible obstacles that might be getting in the way of successful collaboration. Pausing to assess the situation more carefully also allows us to consider our own beliefs and thoughts that might be negatively influencing how we interact with parents.
What are some specific ways teachers can create a classroom climate in which all parents feel welcome?
JC: Initiating connections with parents early can help create a classroom climate in which parents feel welcome. Early connections can be formal or informal gatherings or activities before the school year gets underway. They can be school events or independently planned. Connecting with parents early allows parents to ask questions and express thoughts and concerns that allow them to feel heard. It also sends the message to parents that they are an important part of their child’s success.
Sending a letter, postcard, note, text, or email asking for parent input early in the year and throughout the year lets parents know that their ideas are valuable and welcome. It also allows teachers an opportunity to gain additional understanding and insight about their students from parents as the year progresses. Providing opportunities for parents to visit the classroom or volunteer also sends the message that parents are welcome. During this unique time of learning when the classroom structure may be virtual, socially distanced, or a combination of both, inviting parents into the classroom might look different. In the virtual classroom setting, “inviting” parents into the classroom might be allowing parents to actively join their child during a sharing time, closing circle, or a specific lesson, or even working through a learning task with their child. Various digital platforms offer creative opportunities for parents to be welcomed into the classroom from the comfort of their own homes while students are in a socially distanced setting.
What role does being culturally responsive play in creating positive partnerships between teachers and parents?
JC: A teacher who seeks to be culturally responsive in the classroom has an understanding that the families that make up their classroom community have a myriad of experiences influenced by a variety of backgrounds. Therefore, the teacher approaches instruction in a way that draws from and builds upon students’ background knowledge and experiences, and that helps them understand the learning and better apply the knowledge to their lives outside of school. When educators apply this same mindset and approach to creating positive partnerships with parents, they acknowledge, seek to understand, and value the diverse experiences that parents possess in order to strengthen and build a genuine partnership that supports the student.
Many of the common methods teachers use to foster cooperation with parents— communication tools, conferences, involvement opportunities—have been compromised because of pandemic policies. What specific ways can teachers foster cooperation, communication, and partnership in our current circumstances?
JC: Some of the same methods that teachers have used for years are still appropriate and beneficial in communicating with parents during this unique time—emails, texts, phone calls, and letters. The pandemic has opened the door to making other forms of connecting more commonplace, such as organizing virtual meetings, conferences, and gatherings through various digital platforms that allow parents and teachers to connect safely and, at times, more conveniently from their homes. Apps such as Remind or TalkingPoints have also been used more regularly to communicate and offer support for communicating in various languages. The key is to make sure that the forms of communication being used are available, manageable, and realistic for both parents and teachers. This might mean using more than one form of communication to meet the needs of every parent and making sure that information is being consistently and effectively communicated.
What have you learned about parent teacher cooperation from your own experiences as a parent whose child is learning remotely?
JC: The most important thing that I have learned is that this unique learning experience requires more grace, patience, and empathy from all parties. Teachers are navigating much more than usual—and that is an understatement. Families are also navigating much more. There are a lot of unknowns and a lot that is new. There are so many factors at play on both ends. Some days the technology is functioning perfectly and other days, not so much. Sometimes directions are communicated clearly and everyone is on the same page, and other times there are questions needing clarification to make things run more smoothly. With so much that is new and unknown, I am discovering that communication between the parent, teacher, and student is even more important to ensure student success. The teacher, the parent, and the student all need to have more patience with one another. The one thing that we have in common is that we are all experiencing this newness to some degree, which means we all have multiple opportunities to extend grace and to show a little more patience and empathy