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The Importance of Trust in Parent Teacher Relationships

When I first took up my job as a school administrator about 17 years ago, the parent body seemed very much like my own parents’ generation: Once they identified a good school and secured admission, their job was done; by and large, education was left to the school and its teachers. Parent-teacher relationships were built on a trust that school staff knew their jobs and would do them well.

That’s not the case for parent teacher relationships anymore. We live in the Information Age, which has given us instant connectivity to knowledge on a wider array of subjects. This allows parents to better understand the field of education, be more involved in it, and better share and support each other. Those are all good things, when we start from a place of trust. But when we assume the worst of our children’s schools and teachers, these advantages can turn into liabilities that jeopardize parent-teacher relationships as well as a child’s education.

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A good example of this occurred at a parent-teacher meeting not so long ago. A father stood in front of a large parent group and complained that teachers were not doing justice to their topics; some chapters were given more time while others were covered in a single session. He told the teachers they needed to divide the number of chapters across weeks and give equal time to all chapters.

It is wonderful to see a parent be thoughtful about his child’s studies. But by voicing his interest in the form of a complaint, and telling teachers how to teach better, the communication started with antagonism. My initial, private reaction was to think, “I don’t go to your office and tell you how to do your job,” – not very constructive, I know. Trust evaporated immediately: He clearly didn’t trust the teachers to have evidence-based reasons for their methods; in turn, when it felt like we were being attacked, it was difficult to trust his intentions.

Every teacher is trained to identify the complexity level of each chapter and allocate time accordingly, I explained. This plan is then checked by the Faculty Heads, who are experts in the field of education as well as in their respective subjects. Finally, it is approved by the Principal. Each level of review brings more and more experience in explaining difficult concepts in a way children can understand, because children require more time to absorb and retain certain concepts than others. There is a lot of method in what he perceived as madness.

Similarly, a mother of a student once shared with the whole parents’ WhatsApp group that the school bus’s lady attendant had hit her child. When she finally approached us about the issue, CCTV footage from the bus showed no such incident, but rather her child chirping happily while being handed over to her grandmother.

Of course, I do not fault the mother for being concerned. If her child came to her with a story of mistreatment, she should look into it; any parent would. But like the father at the parent-teacher conference, the way she voiced this concern undermined the trust between us. First, she approached on the offensive; rather than ask if the event had actually occurred, she accused. Second, she spread her mistrust amongst a group of parents, thereby weakening the not only her relationship with the school, but all parent-teacher relationships.

If you, as a parent, have a question – just ask us. We are happy to explain, to help. Trust that we are competent teachers who have reasons for our educational decisions and who care greatly about your children’s well-being and development. We take pride in both, just as you do in your own work.

But, please refrain from taking it public. We have nothing to hide, but miscommunications and disagreements are more difficult to resolve the more people get involved.

Finally, please remember: Children model what they see. If they see their parents mistrusting the school, they are going to lose respect for their teachers and school as well. We all want school to be a place in which children love to learn and thrive. That scenario is made less possible, however, when children intuit their parents don’t respect their learning environment. The impact can be lasting, leaving children less open to learning and less interested in schoolwork long-term.

Children learn best when parents and teachers work as a team. And like any team, the relationship must be built on a foundation of trust. We may not always agree. But we must always respect each other and recognize that what is best for the child is what unites us.

Be interested. Ask us questions. Hold us to high standards. Ensure your child’s safety. But trust us – as we trust you.

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