In an era where high-stakes testing of even our youngest kids is rampant—and often misleading—we’re reminded how crucial it is for parents to create strong relationships with teachers and childcare providers. Moms and dads need to be able to see beyond the test scores and work together with educators to understand their children’s unique strengths, interests and talents as learning patterns emerge.
We toss around the terms “parent engagement” and “home-to-school connection” a lot these days. And for working parents they can be anxiety inducing. But what do these phrases really mean? Over the years I’ve talked with many parents and educators about what a “good relationship” looks like. The answers reveal a wide range of beliefs and values. Some parents are intimidated by the education system. They want the best for their children and don’t want to make a mistake, yet they don’t understand the systems or expectations and often feel marginalized. Many working parents feel they don’t receive information on a regular basis or have a strong connection to the teacher. Educators report a sense that parents are overcommitted and anxious and have unrealistic expectations. These disconnects and misperceptions can be a problem when it comes to a healthy relationship.
Parent-teacher relationships don’t just happen. They are built over time through consistent communication, collaboration, creative problem solving, a common goal and, most importantly, trust. Because teachers change every year, the constants in these relationships are the parents and children. So it’s essential that parents develop leadership skills in setting clear goals (beyond testing), have meaningful and productive conversations, and create an action plan for supporting their child in the short-term and long-term.
Learning is not a sprint; it is a lifelong journey, and at every turn there are opportunities for new growth and development. Research shows that a strong parent, child and educator relationship helps boost student achievement and outcomes.
Many arts educators use something called a portfolio review process to track their students’ progress. This can be a helpful tool for parents too. It integrates all of the learning areas, assessments and observational information so you can have meaningful, structured discussions about your child’s specific learning style. It’s also a great way to focus on your child’s unique gifts, interests, preferences and approaches. This will help inform how you engage your child’s extracurricular time and how you can support school learning. Here’s how to create and use a portfolio.
Create an oversized portfolio that can hold your child’s work. Within the portfolio create five types of folders:
Learning Areas: language and literacy, math, science, technology, social emotional learning, executive function, health and physical development
Grade Milestones and Objectives
Testing and Assessments
Notes from Teacher or Others
Thoughts, Ideas and Questions from You
Schedule time early in the school year to meet with your child’s teacher. Reaching out and making this connection to talk and ask questions is a great beginning. Explain you are building a portfolio of materials that you would like to discuss during a scheduled meeting. Use this time to share your portfolio.
Organize your child’s material. Every week your child brings home lots of student-generated material. Simply organize it in the portfolio by learning area. Jot down any thoughts, responses or questions you might to share with your child’s teacher about these materials. This is your “working memory” journal. While you may not go over all of this information with the teacher, you will begin to understand your child’s work through a new lens.
Talk with your significant other or spouse about what you have collected as you prepare for your parent-teacher meeting. What have you found to be your child’s strengths? What are some of your concerns? What do you want to know more about? What surprises you? Do the assessments match the quality of work your child has created? Follow your gut. You know your child best.
Create a list of questions and observations you want to share with your child’s teacher. When you meet with the teacher, bring your portfolio along with questions and observations. Remember that school days are packed. Try to make sure you have enough time to “unpack” your portfolio questions.
Know your goal, which should be to leave with a clear and shared understanding of where your child is emotionally and academically, as well as a clear action plan based on these thoughtful discussions.
As your child transitions to a new grade and level, you'll be able share this information with the next teacher. Also, by organizing your child’s work year-over-year you will have created a fun scrapbook of memories, moments of learning and celebrations that become the history of your child’s learning journey. Recently I photographed thousands of pieces of art, math problem, stories, poetry and three-dimensional STEM projects and am creating books for each of our children that represents their entire academic life.
Susan Magsamen is an award-winning writer and a learning expert. She is an Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School, senior vice president of Early Learning at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the founder of Curiosityville, an interactive personalized learning world for young children and families.