When it comes to building relationships, it isn’t only teachers that need to get it right, we as parents also have responsibilities. And I know first hand that when I go into battle with my mum head on, I am not always as calm and as rational as I should be.
The reality is many of us at some time or another have been let down by a system not designed to cater for our children. Others have have struggled to build good relationships with previous schools and previous teachers, and therefore enter new relationships with trepidation and sometimes even hostility.
It is understandable that we feel all these things. We are human after all. And we are desperate not to let our children down.
With feelings running high it easy to come across less well than we would like to, so these are my top tips for working with teachers:
Kindness Breeds Kindness
I tell my students often that it is very hard for someone to be antagonistic if they are always kind in return. We practice it in fact. One person gives an insult whilst the other returns a compliment. The effect can be transformational. Next time you speak to your child’s teacher start the conversation with a compliment. Tell them something you appreciate that you have done, or tell them how impressed you were with a piece of work your child brought home.
Teachers work really hard, yet I can count on one hand the time parents come to tell me when something is going well. Just like you worry when school calls you about what you will be told, teachers worry when parents call them. It usually isn’t good news.
Don’t Blame The Teacher For The Inadequacies Of The System
Right now the system is pretty rubbish. It has never been harder to access help for children. Teachers are given no formal SEND training. Specialist services have huge waiting lists. The thresholds for EHCPs seem to get harder to meet each year.
That doesn’t make it right that’s your child isn’t getting the support they need. But it does mean that teachers are battling the same system that you are. Only the likelihood is that they are battling it for multiple different children with multiple different needs. Remember when they are telling you that there isn’t support available they are just as frustrated as you are (even if they are trying to be professional and not showing it).
Instead Ask Them How You Can Work Together To Better Support Your Child
Tell them you appreciate that they are doing their best and that you would like to help them. Ask if they would like you to share strategies that have worked for you at home, or if they would like you to summarise strategies you have found in books or online. Find out whether they would like you to call the Local Education Authority to chase an appointment – often a well timed call from a parent is much more effective than one from a teacher.
Remember Teachers Have Families Too
People think that teachers work incredibly short hours and therefore a little extra work won’t make a difference. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. In my mainstream English teacher days it was rare I stopped making before 11 at night, and term time weekends were filled with planning and paperwork. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to just keep a classroom afloat.
If your child doesn’t have an EHCP (and therefore extra adult support and funding) focus on the things teachers can do that will make a difference without causing them more work. They are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to respond positively. And when you think creatively there is a lot that can be done this way.
It often isn’t that teachers don’t want to put extra time in, just that there often isn’t that extra time available. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. Remember teachers have families and children of their own, who also need some of their time.
Keep Data And Take It With You To Meetings
Many parents feel as though teachers don’t listen to or understand their concerns. A lack of formal training in SEND often means that they simply don’t have the expertise to read between the lines. Data helps them do that better and gives them evidence they can use to present to other colleagues to try to secure support or accommodations.
If your child always comes home on a Tuesday or a Thursday upset, log it carefully and calmly in a diary alongside any behaviours that occur. Keep as much emotion out of it as possible. Taking the diary to school and asking the teacher if they have any ideas about what makes those days different to the others, is a great way to demonstrate that a child is masking without being accusatory or making the teacher feel under fire.
If nothing can be figured out instantly ask if it would be possible to keep a diary over a period of a couple of weeks to see if any patterns can be established. Whether teachers or parents like it or not, data speaks volumes in schools and provides crucial evidence to support that change is needed.
Write The Important Things Down
It is so helpful when parents write the important things down for me, especially at times of transition when multiple new children start at once. I always make my own notes but I’m always worried about missing things during conversations. Well thought out written pointers about potential triggers and strategies that work well are always appreciated.
The best way to hand them over is with a compliment. “I know you are a really experienced teacher and brilliant at what you do, but I know x finds it really hard to settle into a new class and I thought these pointers might help make his behaviour a little easier to manage.”
It is really hard when your child is upset to wait. But please please remember that a teacher coming out of class to talk to you is extremely distruptive to the rest of the class. We all know how difficult children can find change. Please call rather than turn up at school. Explain that you would like to speak to someone as quickly as possible, as calmly as you can. Let them know how to get hold of you and they will call you back. Be aware though that that may not be until the end of the day.
That doesn’t mean they don’t care. It just means they have a room full of children relying on them during the school day…. contrary to the real world many teachers don’t get a real break or lunch. In my mainstream days a can of Coke and a bar of chocolate was about all I had time for.
Will Doing This Guarantee Success
No, it won’t. Teachers like people in every other profession come in all shapes, sizes and mindsets. We don’t all think alike. But doing these things will give you the best possible chance of building good relationships with your child’s teachers. And for their sake that matters.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.
Or why not join our private Facebook Group, which brings parents and teachers of children on the spectrum together to discuss strategies to help at home and at school.
If you join our tribe at the bottom of the post, you’ll receive a weekly email containing autism strategies and resources straight to your inbox.
And of course if I can be of any help then please just shout (or drop me an email).