School As A Team Effort
Teachers and parents are often put at odds with each other—that teacher doesn’t like my daughter; that parent spoils his son. This divide is in large part due to societal expectations, or media depictions, that these are two opposing camps. But the truth is there is no side: We all want what’s best for the children. Parents and teachers work best as a team, each tackling unique aspects of a child’s development and growth while reinforcing the others’ work.
REINFORCING APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR
Learning that some behaviours – like talking loudly, running, shoving – are either inappropriate, or appropriate in some contexts but not in others, is an important milestone for children. Because family is the first model children have of the world, parents and caregivers are best suited to teach these lessons. Setting limitations on behaviour and enforcing them isn’t cruel or inhibiting to your child, assuming it is developmentally appropriate (for instance, a toddler shouldn’t be held to the same standard as an 8-year-old); children require limitation and discipline in order to grow (read more about discipline on The Swaddle).
They also need these things in order to learn. A child who has not yet been taught not to interrupt others, yell indoors, or sit still, will find it difficult to receive lessons on numbers and letters. This puts kids behind not only academically, but also socially: Kids view their home environment as the gold standard; when limitations are lax there (e.g., not disciplining a child for hitting when he or she is angry), it takes longer to instill a standard for social behaviour outside the home.
However, when parents teach kids about appropriate behaviour and are firm in their response to inappropriate behaviour, teachers can act as reinforcers. This is where the teamwork comes in: Just as parents reinforce teachers when, say, they read with their children, teachers can reinforce appropriate behaviour at school by calling out good classroom behaviour and disciplining poor behaviour according to school rules.
RESPONDING TO CHALLENGES
A teacher’s job is to impart knowledge; it’s also our job to evaluate impartially how well a child has understood and retained it. We can discuss whether giving scaled marks is the best way to do this another time. (There are plenty of valid arguments on both sides.) But currently, it is the accepted way. Marks aren’t a personal judgment on a child; rather, they are intended to help a child (and parents) understand in what areas a child is performing well and in what areas he or she can improve. Ultimately, they are signposts on the path to becoming a well-rounded, fully-developed adult.
While one half of the team evaluates, the other half of the team – parents – reinforces the process by helping children learn how to respond to evaluation. Low marks or failure can be an important developmental experience for a child (read more on the importance of failure on The Swaddle). Parents can help a child accept the challenge and persevere until he or she can take pride in performance of the skill or subject (which may not always be the highest mark).
In the same way, parents teach children how to respond to success. Too much focus on high marks, rather than on hard work and mastery, can teach a child that the reward of learning is achievement and praise. When these things become the motivation for learning, children may avoid trying new subjects and experiences out of fear they may not succeed. They also may miss the critical experience of facing and overcoming challenges or outright failure, a key life skill.
When parents help children view marks impersonally – high marks as a means of independence, and low marks as a temporary obstacle that can be overcome either with help or hard work – they are more likely to want to learn. This is a reinforcing cycle: Teachers can teach more to more receptive students.
When parents and teachers operate as a team, focusing on the independent – yet related – roles they are best suited for, the result is happier, healthier kids who grow into well-adjusted, well-rounded adults. We can all agree this is a worthy goal. Let’s work together to make it happen.