Education often puts parents and teachers at odds, but this can be counter-productive in more ways than seems immediately obvious. The combination of parent and teacher can be extremely powerful and beneficial to children and adults alike. Some of the best ways to maximise that potential is to get parents involved with teachers, in and out of the classroom.
For decades, the idea of parents helping out on day trips and expeditions outside of school has almost been a given. Indeed some of those activities would never take place if it weren’t for parents and carers giving up their time to help, usually due to there not being enough adult numbers to cover the amount of children; there are guidelines about these numbers and teachers will be able to provide that information on a local level.
But out of school isn’t the only way this can work. Parents in the classroom – basically working as voluntary teaching assistants – can be a true blessing, especially with class numbers high and staff low. However, it is very important that parents and teachers work together to ensure both safe practice and that they are working from the same page toward the same goals.
Often, especially in the case of older parents and carers from earlier generations and rules – people will not be aware of school policy or individual teacher practice. If help is offered it is vital that teacher and parent/carer have communication. This is best done face-to-face, perhaps in a lunch hour or after school, but via a clear and concise letter will also work. That is the time to lay out the expectations on both sides, get them clear and understood before beginning to work together.
Once all safety, class and personal rules have been established it is then vital to ensure the potential helper understands both their role – friendly to kids but not a friend, making personal decisions in a given situation but remembering teacher has the last say, for example – and what the aims of a given lesson or activity are.
If these simple guidelines are followed a teacher can take on the more difficult children, or a particular group and teach with the confidence to know they don’t have to be looking over their shoulder to see if the helper needs help!
Another way the parent-teacher dynamic can be maximised is in communicating about children. Often a teacher will be absorbed in work, in teaching, and unable to give individual attention. A parental helper can be excellent at noticing the small things a teacher is too busy to see – through no fault of their own; simply workload . This could be something simple such as a child who is sick, through the child who needs more attention for a particular subject or activity to the child who may be suffering abuse or other hardships.
In this situation, what is of paramount importance is that the parent knows how to be discreet. Matters of personal privacy must never be shared in front of the class. This may seem an obvious warning, but it is easy to slip, to wish to convey something important as fast as possible. A noble intention, but no child wants their problems, be it school or home related, discussed before the whole world; and a classroom is often the whole world to a small child.
On a lighter note, parents and teachers co-operating on extra-curricular and special activities is one of the most productive partnerships there is. Put a teacher with a play and a parent with creative flair in the same room and chances are there will be an event to remember in the offing. Parents are often the ones a teacher can turn to for costume making, baking for fêtes and even for running after-school activities – especially sports as coaches and drivers – or the ability for a school to offer breakfast clubs which provide parents with a place to leave kids in safety when they go to work and food for kids who may not get a breakfast for financial or social reasons.
The teacher and parent relationship can make a world of difference to the kids who benefit from the extra attention and the adults who learn from and support each other; a truly dynamic duo!