Full Circle Support: Creating Successful Connections between School and Home

Every year, parents hear the annual refrain from teachers about the need to create a healthy relationship between home and school; but what does that look like? Though we all understand that teachers and parents share the goal of each child’s success in school, the journey on the road to that educational success usually offers a few unexpected detours along the way. Much like the small print in the parenting manual that doesn’t prepare us for the unforeseen, the connection between school and home isn’t always what we would expect or suspect. From the parents’ perspective, expectations include the academic and social development of the students at every grade level. From the teachers’ perspective, these expectations are joined with the emotional and behavioral development of each child, especially in regard to being part of a community: one made up of many, equally important and equally deserving individuals. So how can the adults in every student’s life merge their expectations in order to not only start the journey, but program the GPS for the desired destination?

Perhaps the best first steps are those taken with openness. During the early months of a school year, parents have opportunities for relationship-building that aren’t as readily available as the months continue to pass and families get entrenched in work-life routines. Besides attending events such as Back to School Nights and Parent-Teacher Conferences, parents are also invited to connect regularly with teachers in order to establish a healthy partnership and working relationship for the school year. The easiest part of that partnership is determining the best means of contact: phone calls, emails or notes. The most difficult part is striking a balance between expressing concerns and maintaining respectful communication. Face it: it’s hard to measure words when we speak from a place of concern, worry or frustration. It’s equally difficult to know how much contact is too much contact and how long is too long to wait for a response. After all, we only get one year in each grade, with no “do-overs.” It’s easy to raise the level of demand, past the point of reason, depending on the level of upset or unhappiness a child brings home. It’s also easy to grow frustrated when the provided information is unclear or insufficient. As parents, we want explanations, answers and reasons. As educators, we want the same. How can we help each other to get what we need while sustaining the home-school connection? With one misstep in the communication process, the GPS begins recalculating the route, and soon, we’re lost.

For a while, I held the untenable position of being my kids’ teachers’ boss. Imagine trying to establish healthy systems of communication with teachers who felt that their every move was being scrutinized on the microscopic level! We spent a great deal of time dancing around each other, as they tried to figure out if I needed to hear every good, bad and ugly detail of my boys’ school days. Every worksheet, test and quiz was shared, explained and justified. I was informed of every social interaction and distraction, every positive and negative risk taken. I remember reaching my threshold and thinking, “Are you kidding me? Do they act like this with everyone’s mom?” Then I had what Oprah called an “Ah-hah moment.” Prior to having my kids in their homerooms, these teachers were just my colleagues, and I was their team leader. However, when my boys took their places in their classes, our relationship shifted. I became a mom: one of “them”—a parent. With our relationship shift, the teachers felt the need to over-communicate with me, offer countless detailed explanations, answers and reasons for their every move. They needed me to know that they were doing the best that they could by my kids. They needed me to acknowledge them as professionals and experts from a deeper level than my supervisory role. They needed this from me as a parent. Ah-hah! I also realized that though I constantly said that I was “just Momma” when I sat in parent conferences, I was also the boss—which involved yet another layer of scrutiny and judgment. Little did my colleagues know that I felt scrutinized and judged too: as a mother, the parent of their students and as their supervisor!

The moral of the story is that the bridge-building between school and home isn’t an easy construction project for anyone. All adults tend to bring baggage into their social interactions. It’s what we grown-ups do as we try to strike the balance between work and home, between parenting and partnering. While managing that baggage, we offer each other just enough information to help our children along. Then, when we become more comfortable with each other, we parcel out a few more bits of trust and openness until a comfortable bond is established. The struggle lies in figuring out how open to be with the school. Does my child’s teacher need to know how rough the mornings are at home? Should I tell him about our homework wars? Is it important to say that our gerbil died? Surely the teacher doesn’t need to know that I might lose my job next month? Does he need to know that we just moved to a new house? At some point, every parent wonders how much personal information needs to be revealed and whether or not that revelation will help or hurt the child. Most importantly, parents wonder if they will be judged by teachers. Some consolation can be found in the fact that teachers wonder the same things about parents. Why wouldn’t the parents tell me this important information so I could offer more support, an extra hug, or just listen when the child needs me to? Don’t they trust me? Ah-hah!

So how do we get to that healthy connection between school and home? What does it look like when full-circle support is in place? I believe it starts with risk-taking and revelation. Taking the risk of revealing important information about a child and life at home helps the teacher to gain insight into the individuals sitting in the classroom. Knowing a child’s likes and dislikes, as well as her strengths and needs gives the school a wider view of each learner. When parents share the delights, as well as the disasters and disruptions within the family’s life, they extend trust to the school and allow us to acknowledge those very present feelings in the child. When home and school connect, we find ourselves on the same page—again recalculating the GPS to the “direct route” to our destination.

This is an invitation to strengthen the support around each Lower School child. Working toward the creation of healthy, successful connections between home and school requires communication, trust and understanding. It can be a raggedy process, with some missteps along the way. We may occasionally overstep a boundary, and we may have to accept disagreement. However, if we agree on respect and openness, we stay focused on our common goal: each child’s success. We can accept that as much as no two children learn the same way, no two families raise their children and parent in the same way.  There is no better; there is just what is. What counts is that we do the best we can, maintaining an active exchange of ideas, anecdotes and suggestions between school and home. Such an exchange will reveal that every adult actually parents and teaches all of the time. There’s the connection, and the circle is complete.

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