The start of a new school year can occasion many different feelings. A sense of excitement about the new friends our kids will make, the new skills they will learn and the new experiences they will have. A sense of pride in their increasing maturity and growth. A sense of hope that it could turn out to be the best year ever.
A new year can also lead to worry and a series of endless questions running through our heads. Will my child have good teachers? Will they make good grades? Will they put forth their best effort? Will they make new friends? Will they keep their old friends? Am I a good parent? Can I effectively juggle the challenges of parenting? Will my child be happy? Will they be safe? The endless questions we ask ourselves can make us feel like hamsters running on a wheel with no end!
As a parent myself and an educator who has worked with kids and parents for more than 20 years, I can empathize with what you are all going through. To make matters worse, we enter this next school year in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which none of us have experienced before.
So, what do we do? How do we tackle this next school year without falling apart? How do we manage the many stressors coming at us from all sides? One way to manage this overwhelming situation is to focus on those things we actually can control rather than worrying about the things we can’t. For example, we can’t control the pandemic – we can only behave responsibly in the face of it by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing our hands and trusting what the experts tell us. Taking effective, responsible action in the face of this pandemic allows us to gain some measure of control in an uncontrollable situation.
This same kind of effective action applies to other stressful situations we face as parents – like who our child’s teacher is. We can’t choose who educates our children from year to year. But we can take effective actions in our interactions with our child’s teachers, and these effective actions bring control to an uncontrollable situation.
The relationship between you and your child’s teacher is as important as the other interpersonal relationships in your life and meaningful interpersonal relationships begin with authentic communication. Without authentic communication, relationships can start to go south and, before you know it, you are in the middle of a toxic relationship based on avoidance, anger, upset and blame.
When even minor issues aren’t immediately communicated, these small things tend to snowball over time evolving into monumental sources of upset. You might recognize this pattern of breakdown with respect to other relationships in your life – like with your spouse. For example, your husband leaves the milk on the counter when he leaves for work and it makes you as mad as if he had intentionally lit the house on fire! When minor incidents become the source of overwhelming anger, that’s a pretty good sign that you have been avoiding authentically communicating things.
These same kinds of issues apply to your relationship with your child’s teacher. When you avoid immediately communicating your concerns, the smallest of issues can grow into an avalanche of upset. I don’t mean that you should lay into your child’s teacher about every concern you have. I mean that you should practice authentic communication, which involves acknowledging your shared humanity, being kind and generous in your communications, and speaking from a place of shared values.
You and your child’s teacher are both human. Being human comes with a host of fears like questioning our self-worth, worrying if we are good enough, fear of being wrong and fear of failure. You experience these fears as a parent and your child’s teacher experiences them as an educator. As such, you have a shared humanity. Acknowledging the fears that you and your child’s teacher share creates a powerful space for communication. Recognizing your shared humanity creates the space for understanding, which leads to kind and generous communications. Coming from a place of kindness and generosity rather than anger and blame sets the stage for meaningful interactions. Anger and blame cut off communication. But kindness and generosity lead to powerful communications.
You and your child’s teacher also share the same values. You want your child to learn and succeed while being safe and happy. I promise that your child’s teacher wants these things too – not only for your child but for every student. Acknowledging these shared values sets the stage for authentic communication. Don’t voice your concerns from a place of suspicion, anger and blame. Voice your concerns from the values that you share.
Finally, remember that teachers don’t enter their profession in search of fame and fortune. They enter their profession to make a difference. This honorable value doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers will always be effective. Teachers, like everyone else, learn from feedback. Teachers need feedback to improve their performance. Parents can serve as powerful sources of feedback for teachers. Through authentic communication, you can contribute to a teacher’s growth into a more effective educator. In so doing, you not only enhance your own child’s experience, you enhance the experience of all children impacted by that teacher.
We all play a role in how things go in our relationships with others. Acknowledging the role that we all play serves a source of power. Rather than feeling powerless over our interactions with others, authentic communication provides us with the power to have strong interpersonal relationships while promoting effective change. In light of what we are all facing in the world today, now more than ever we need to take effective action in the areas of our lives that we can actually control. Building a strong relationship with your child’s teacher is a great place to start.