This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
How Parents Feel About Their Child’s Teacher/School: Implications for Early Childhood Professionals
Herman T. Knopf1,2 and Kevin J. Swick1
The purpose of this article is to describe the eﬀects that parent perceptions of their relationships with teachers have on parent involvement. After providing a brief review of literature identifying the importance of parent–teacher relationship formation, the authors provide suggestions for early childhood educators that will help them establish and maintain productive relationships with the families that they serve.
KEY WORDS: parent–teacher relationships; parent involvement; family involvement.
The importance of establishing rapport with families and encouraging involvement in the daily operations of schooling has become common knowledge among early childhood professionals. Research has clearly shown that strong parent–teacher relationships lead to increased parental involvement (Ames, De Stefano, Watkins, & Shelden, 1995; Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Lawson, 2003; Mann, 2006) which has been shown to have a signiﬁcant and lasting impact on children’s academic achievement (Ryan, Adams, Gullotta, Weissberg, & Hampton, 1995). Even though we ‘‘know’’ that relationships with families are important and lead to positive child outcomes, many early childhood educators ﬁnd it extremely diﬃcult to facilitate parent involvement at levels that will result in signiﬁcant change. One key factor in the development of meaningful relationships with families is how teachers actually go about establishing partnerships that are perceived positively by parents and that lead to increased school
Department of Instruction and Teacher Education, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA. 2 Correspondence should be directed to Herman T. Knopf, Department of Instruction and Teacher Education, University of South Carolina, Wardlaw 107C, 820 S. Main Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
involvement. Unfortunately, most literature describing parent involvement strategies take a ‘‘schoolcentric’’ (Lawson, 2003) view of parent involvement which ignores the needs and perceptions of the parents we are encouraging to become involved. Too often early childhood professionals assume they understand parent perspectives and that they have established meaningful relationships with the parents that they serve. Many parents, however, indicate that they are rarely consulted on important issues regarding their child’s schooling and the family–teacher relationship (Epstein, 1992; Lawson, 2003; Swick, 2004b). A recent study (Mann, 2006) found that parents do indeed have diﬀerent understandings of involvement in their children’s education suggesting that teachers acknowledge the need to communicate with parents regarding their perceptions of involvement so that teachers can use this knowledge when constructing avenues for parents to be involved and recognizing and valuing the ways that the parents are involved. What continues to be neglected is the importance of ﬁrst establishing open lines of communication that facilitate the development of relationships that will enable these conversations to take place. Early childhood educators need more speciﬁc guidance for developing positive relationships and ideas for involving families in the community of the 291
1082-3301/07/0200-0291/0 Ó 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC
particularly based in their child and family situation. Early childhood professionals can take the lead in fostering this recursive. Fuller. 2004b). For example. 2005). Once parents have positive experiences with teachers they are empowered to extend this initial interaction to multiple relationships with teachers that not only empower them but their children as well (Powell. Some parents accept that it is their responsibility to be very involved in school activities by actually being present at the school site. Considering the unique values and ideas that parents bring to an emerging relationship with their children’s teachers. Thus. ideas concerning appropriate involvement are an important consideration. Several researchers have found that trust in the teacher or caregiver signiﬁcantly inﬂuences parents’ perceptions of the quality of care their child is receiving (Mensing. while others believe that high visibility in the school is a signal of disrespect or a lack of conﬁdence in their child’s teacher. (p. Trust is based on a mutual respect which ‘‘is not something one can imitate. the authors will review research that points to the important role of parental perceptions in the formation and maintenance of meaningful relationships and provide research supported strategies for framing interactions with parents and families that will help shape positive perceptions. Respecting the style and type of interests parents have can help to forge trusting and meaningful relations. 1998).292 classroom. in interviews with parents regarding their relationship with the same teacher Swick (2004c) found that one parent . 57). She emphasizes that parents are powerfully impacted by how early childhood professionals relate to their children. which in turn inﬂuences the way he/she frames interactions with the child’s teacher. the relationship parents have with early childhood professionals is signiﬁcant and the relationship style professionals bring to the interactions with parents is a powerful factor. parents have a broader ‘‘community view’’ of their involvement. is dependent on the maintenance of a positive relationship and is only built through consistent positive interactions between the parents and caregivers (Swick. 2000). When parents distrust the caregivers of their children they do not perceive the care and education that their children receive as high quality and typically dis-enroll their children from care (Gonzales-Mena 2006. Knopf and Swick FACTORS INFLUENCING PARENT PERCEPTIONS A key understanding related to parent perceptions is that each parent or family member brings with him/her very diverse views and ideas regarding what is best for his/her child (Gonzalez-Mena. as Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) suggests. and others still view their involvement in diﬀerent ways altogether (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler. 2000) and parents’ tendency to be responsive to teacher-initiated interactions (Dunst. & Kagan. Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) also cautions that parents are likely to see relationships in a more speciﬁc sense. 1999. While teachers are more ‘‘school-based’’ in their thinking. For example. She states: When parents hear the teacher capture the child that they know.. 2004a). It is crucial that we take the time and expend the energy to come to know each parent/family member as a unique and caring person and that we account for these diﬀerences in our relationships with them. 1994). Trivette. 104) RELATIONSHIPS SHAPE PERCEPTIONS Through an examination of research conducted from several vantage points. These divergent views of the nature of parent involvement and the role parents should play in the process of education can lead to conﬂict and continued misunderstanding. The establishment of trust. & Deal. Teachers who project a positive attitude toward the parent and the child and who are responsive to parent and child needs seem to create a respectful relationship with the parent (Olson & Hyson. they feel reassured that their child is visible in her classroom – that the teacher actually sees and knows him or her – and they get the message that she really cares. empowering cycle of relationship and trust development by actively engaging in positive interactions with parents. Positive teacher–parent relations seem to promote a recursive pattern of teacher–parent interactions that empower the teacher and the parent (Swick. but is something one must embody. It is maintained by respectful acts of individuals’’ (Lawrence-Lightfoot. Mensing et al. Through this article. it has become clear that the existence of strong relationships between parents and their children’s teachers signiﬁcantly impact how parents feel about the care and education their child is receiving. Lawson (2003) reported that teachers and parents have diﬀerent ideas about parental involvement. 1994). 1997). p. of course. French.
Very importantly. (p. help us find the place where it will work or help us set new dreams . preclude their Swick and Hooks (2005) found that parents of children with special needs wanted to be valued. to be involved at school. what do parents look for in their relationship with early childhood professionals? Swick (2004c) found the following: • Parents want someone who cares about them and their children. are unable to involve themselves in school-based functions despite signiﬁcant interest. 111). due to competing responsibilities. In eﬀect. Don’t write us off or out of the educational process. listen to what parents are telling you. warm. It also may reﬂect only our construct of what parent involvement should be and thus not inclusive of how parents view the partnership (Lawson. and meaningful. • They want to see their ideas respected and used in creating quality care environments. This does not however. Let us try out our dreams. and they valued having an important part to play in the parent–teacher partnership. An interactive process that is mutually empowering needs to be nurtured so that parental constructs of us and our profession are indeed nurturing. 2003). • Parents want respect and to be seen as an eﬀective member of their child’s education team. Various stereotypes that some teachers hold to be true show the need for closer attention to teacher relations with parents and families (Swick. One parent summed up the . 6) MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PARENTS’ PERCEPTIONS AND BEHAVIORS In so many cases the voice of parents is not heard or is misconstrued (Gonzalez-Mena.How Parents Feel About Their Child’s Teacher/School described her child’s teacher as warm. to be sought out for feedback on how things were going with their child. This stereotype is rooted in teachers’ perceptions of what ‘‘caring’’ parents do to support their child’s education and classroom functioning. as early childhood programs deﬁne parent and family involvement in ways that include many family values and functions. 2004b). PARENTAL EXPECTATIONS IN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH EARLY CHILDHOOD PROFESSIONALS An important element in parent beliefs about their part in their children’s lives is their perception of what the parent–professional relationship should be. parental involvement increases. • They want a close relationship with early childhood professionals. Further. LawrenceLightfoot. Yet. Another mistake is the line of thought that equates quantity of parent involvement in school functions with the level of interest that parents have. while another parent indicated that ‘‘I do not feel I can get close to this teacher––she seems to want us to be more in the background’’ (p. rather desiring to have a role to play in the decisions that impact them and their child. such as transportation or the time during the school day. they do indeed become involved (Comer. Just because we have a child with special needs doesn’t mean we should not be involved in his/her education. Unfortunately some parents. Parental perceptions are inﬂuenced by the way we treat them. Our ‘‘caring’’ is most fully realized in environments that we trust and where we feel valued and empowered (Swick. 2001). in cases where parents develop a measure of investment in their child’s school and in their partnership with teachers. 1994. They may lack the resources. very helpful. Here again we see how the parent view of us is more ‘‘community centered’’––seeking more than just parental involvement in classroom or school activities. As we review some of these stereotypes we need to be cognizant of how our connections with parents can change the culture of parent and family involvement. Teachers often perceive the failure of families to participate in parent/family involvement programs or in other school functions as supporting the idea that parents don’t care (Lawrence-Lightfoot. It doesn’t mean this should not be a priority of ours. the parents in the Swick and Hook study said they wanted to be very involved in their child’s education.. and easy to work with. 2003). Parents do not care. 2004b). Comer (2001) has indicated that parental involvement increases when teachers and staﬀ are inviting and supportive in their relations with parents. When our dreams don’t work. • Parents want to have a part in shaping the agenda that impacts them. • Parents want to be a part of a relationship that is collaborative and communicative. 2003). • Parents want competent early childhood professionals who deliver the services eﬀectively and in ways that truly meet their needs.. 293 feelings of many parents about schools and staﬀ listening to what parents had to say: Teachers and administrators.
1997). face to face. or use parent leadership as an educational tool to motivate and educate. their participation in home learning activities increased. Parents are not interested in leadership roles (Swick. Parents do not have the time or motivation to be involved (Epstein. 2003). If. while at the same time discounting the importance that the development of meaningful relationships may have in providing motivation and helping parents ‘‘ﬁnd time’’ to get involved. Epstein (1995) also notes that when parents and families feel connected to the school they take the time to be involved. Parents tend to gravitate toward the expectations teachers have for them (Swick. if we see parents as capable leaders we will achieve greater involvement. Simply deciding to engage in relationship formation is a major step toward developing meaningful and positive relationships with parents. As Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) notes. The ﬁrst interaction that we have with families sets the tone for the entire relationship. As teachers validate parents by involving them in meaningful partnership roles at least three beneﬁts emerge (Swick. We can further build on these early contacts by aﬀording parents multiple opportunities to become involved in the daily life of the classroom. 1995). Knopf and Swick • Teachers see parental involvement in more positive and diverse ways. 2004b). 1994). Thus. Chrispeels and Gonzalez (2004) found that Latino parents involved in a parent education program were more involved when teachers were more culturally responsive to their situations and needs. 2004b). It is also important to include a ‘‘community-based’’ construct of parent involvement in our work. we are creating a negative perception in the mind of the parent. It is important when establishing and maintaining relationships with parents that we consistently engage in meaningful communication. Communicate with parents consistently through a variety of means (Swick. teachers involve parents in the planning of activities and events. just to introduce ourselves and to let them know we view them as partners in the process of helping their child develop. 2004a). Rich (1992) also found that when parents were asked to give input on ways they could be involved. their participation increased. 2001). 2004a): • Parents gain conﬁdence in themselves as partners with teachers and view teachers and the program in positive ways. The decision to actively establish positive relationships with parents changes your outlook and frames the nature and frequency of interactions that you will have. Personal. on the other hand. we set the stage for a positive relationship by making a supportive ﬁrst impression (Gonzalez-Mena. for example. but should be often enough that parents get the sense that they are informed members of your classroom community. & Ben-Avie. Further. . • Parents and teachers have more meaningful involvement with the children and each other. seems to appreciate the busy and demanding responsibilities that parents face. we contact the parents early after their child has enrolled in our class. To build strong parent– professional relationships we are advocating the following strategies: Decide that you will actively pursue meaningful relationships with ALL of the families in your classroom (Swick. Trust-building is essential in this formative period of the relationship. Many parents are involved in ‘‘caring’’ roles apart from school activities that are just as important (Lawson. parents increase their sense of competence as family and family-school leaders when they are connected to caring and supportive teachers. Epstein (1995) found that when parents had opportunities for training and involvement in leadership areas. Caring behaviors of teachers can make a diﬀerence when. Haynes. If our ﬁrst interaction with parents comes as a result of a problem. Seeing beyond just the parent to other adults in the family is important to gaining more inclusive family involvement. STRATEGIES FOR RELATIONSHIP BUILDING AND DEVELOPING POSITIVE PERCEPTIONS Given the many beneﬁts to having meaningful relationships with parents. it is imperative that we establish communication through the process of building relationships.294 involvement in other ways. 2004c). This tendency to interact frequently says to parents that you care about them and want their involvement in the program. the action of communicating with parents regularly will eﬀectively convey to them your desire to form a partnership. This stereotype. on the surface. Make sure the initial contact with parents is positive and early (Seligman & Darling. 1996). The frequency of interactions doesn’t necessarily have to be every day (although if possible that would be great). Numerous reports from ‘‘Comer Schools’’ show families who seek involvement in their children’s education (Comer. When the entire family is involved parents report more positive feelings toward the school (Comer. Joyner.
How Parents Feel About Their Child’s Teacher/School communication is preferable. or what 295 new skills and abilities to expect in the near future for their children to develop. When the child attempts to comfort another sad classmate by sharing his favorite toy. 2005). but if that opportunity doesn’t consistently present itself. It is important for the parents to know. Share the small accomplishments and meaningful interactions that children have while in your care (Swick. 2003). This shared pride. Ask for assistance when you really need it (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler. So when parents arrive at the classroom or school to help. so that they indeed know we understand their concerns. Parent needs might be either the goals that they have for their child or other support needs that might be met through program enrollment. 2005). 2005). This act is a source of great parental pride when shared in a timely manner. but don’t have an identiﬁed need for assistance. 1997). Once we have obtained this information we must then share with parents how we are helping to meet these needs. Sometimes in early childhood classrooms we inform parents that we want them to be involved in the process of providing care and education to their children. It is important to acknowledge that parents’ needs and goals shift as their children grow and learn. We might respond to parents’ concerns by either changing aspects of the program or simply explaining the state of aﬀairs. without a doubt. This is likely to convey to parents that their assistance in the classroom is not really helpful. to make them feel like they are contributing. we feel compelled to give them something to do. and e-mail will also help. Instead. as we understand them. By providing that support the parents are much more comfortable in the program and are more likely to become involved. When we are engaged in consistent communication. if a child’s parents were concerned about her academic preparation for the next grade we must focus our interactions on sharing her academic successes while citing speciﬁc situations where she has demonstrated proﬁciency. The best way to demonstrate this is by either remedying the situation that has caused the parent to become concerned or to simply explain to the parent what was happening in the situation. By focusing on and taking the time to share small but meaningful accomplishments with parents we are letting parents know that we know their child and we are focused on her/his individual development. that we don’t think that they are capable of really contributing meaningfully to the classroom. Another strategy might be to identify times during the day when parents’ help would be most beneﬁcial. Listen to parents’ concerns and respond to them (Swick & Hooks. can have a powerful impact in both the life of the child and the development of a familial bond between these partners in education. when parents can assist the children by engaging with them while they are at play. or that we are not organized enough to use their help eﬀectively. phone calls. In our experience as program administrators we have found that parents often just need someone to listen to and then clarify their concerns. Learn individual parent needs and communicate how these needs are being met (Swick & Hooks. for example during center time. letters. Explicitly convey the message that you value parents as their child’s ﬁrst and most inﬂuential teacher (Swick & Hooks. we must ﬁrst elicit information about the needs and goals they have for their child. It is not always clear to parents that we are aware of their needs and that we are indeed focused on helping to meet them. When parents come to us with concerns we need to make sure that they know that we have listened to them. In helping to meet the needs of parents we must also accept the responsibility of helping parents to be aware of and sensitive to the developmental shifts in children’s growth and development. In some cases you may want the child to present his new achievement to the parents. 2004b). Displaying children’s work in the classroom is another strategy for sharing the child’s achievement. For instance. but often delegate unimportant tasks. so our pursuit for understanding parents’ needs is ongoing. As we discuss concerns with the parents it is likely that together we can address the issues eﬀectively (Lawson. 2004a). that we value the knowledge and pedagogy that they use when helping . he is showing his capacity to care for and nurture other children. Through our discussions about children’s developmental progress we should also inform parents of appropriate goals. This communication needs to be mutually supportive where parent and teacher respect and nurture each other. We should also be active in adapting our plans to the complex schedules of the families we serve. In either case it is imperative that we ﬁrst listen to the parents’ concerns fully and then restate the concerns back to the parent. among parents and teachers. we should ask the parents to come in and help when we need assistance while at the same time maintaining an ‘‘open-door’’ policy where parents feel free to come in and visit with the children in the class (Swick.
L. (2005). (Report No. Schools that develop children. 77–133.. Why do parents become involved in their children’s education? Review of Educational Research. OH: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall. D. Cambridge. Teachers’ school-to-home communications and parent involvement: The role of parent perceptions and beliefs. 28). (1999). (2004a).. 573–595. S. and that families’ proclivity to be involved is inﬂuenced by the strength of the relationships that we. K. H. uvic. CONCLUSION Through this article we have presented research ﬁndings that suggest that parent involvement strengthens the education that children receive. Do educational programs increase parents’ practices at home? Factors inﬂuencing Latino parent involvement. D. from University of British Columbia.. From a parent’s perspective. & Gonzalez. their children’s teachers and caregivers. (2004c). Champaign. M. Adams.. . Mann. schools. develop with parents. J. (2001). l. 66–68. (1992). & Sandler. S. J. Parental experiences and beliefs regarding inclusive placements of their special needs children. Gullotta. Supporting and strengthening families: Methods. As we engage in communication with parents and begin to establish relationships. J.. J. F. We can also show our commitment to the ‘‘parents as teachers’’ construct by oﬀering parenting education programs that help parents discover the strengths and knowledge that they possess and build on that knowledge to give parents the sense of eﬃcacy that will inevitably lead to positive child outcomes. The American Prospect. School–family relations in context: Parent and teacher perceptions of parent involvement. Phi Delta Kappan. What parents seek in relations with early childhood family helpers. Mensing. New York: Guilford. (1994). Swick. Reading. School/family community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. REFERENCES Ames. Haynes. T. and school initiatives? Phi Delta Kappan. Lawrence-Lightfoot. K. and Hampton. S. (1992). 11.. IL: Stipes.. (2006). Cambridge. Hoover-Dempsey. L. Thousand Oaks.. 38(1). (1996).educ. MA: Perseus Books. Retrieved February 20. M. Salem.. Rallying the whole village: The process for reforming education. Schools. 32(6). Ryan. Boston: Houghton Miﬄin Company. Communicating eﬀectively with parents and families who are homeless.. (2004). E. Gonzalez-Mena. WI: Sheﬃeld. (Eds. (2003). Lawrence-Lightfoot. & Hooks. we need to elicit input or insights that they have to be used to help meet their child’s needs. 32(3). (1995). Ordinary families. Dunst. and Deal. R. & Darling. MA: Brookline Publishers.. C.. Weissberg. Swick. Indo-Canadian parents: Perceptions on parental involvement in elementary schools. MA: Harvard University Family Research Project. The young child in the family and the community. G. C. 211–216. & Kagan. and communities during the early childhood years. 31(3). These relationships will in turn have a dramatic impact on the quality of services provided to children as well as the level of quality that the parents perceive. Respect: An exploration. D. & Hyson. (2003). Comer. 53(5). (2000). Megaskills. The suggestions provided here should not be considered a comprehensive list of the things that can be done to establish meaningful relationships with parents. (1997). 1–6.. 701–712. French. Joyner. (1995). Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies Web site: www. Epstein. district.ca/epls/faculty/storey/mann. (1997).. MD: John Hopkins University Center on Families. 12(7). T. 67. De Stefano.) (1994). Empowering parents. (Eds. J. 3–12. Communities. (2004b). Early Childhood Education Journal. Trivette. J. New York: Random House.htm. M. N. but they are a very good beginning. (1998).. S. Early Childhood Education Journal. strategies and practices. J.. Urban Education. R. NAEYC explores parental perspectives on early childhood education. M. R. Young Children. K. 3–42. (2006)... Powell.. The family-school connection: Theory. 217–220. Swick. Reweaving parents into the fabric of early childhood programs. Baltimore. 67.) (1995). The essential conversation: What parents and teachers can learn from each other. Seligman. K.. B. Early Education & Development. Paths to partnership: What can we learn from federal. It is our hope that the suggestions outlined above will facilitate the development of synergistic partnerships between families and teachers that will ultimately increase parent involvement and children’s enthusiasm for learning. special children: A systems approach to childhood disability. B. and Children’s Learning. Rich. A. & Ben-Avie. research. Lawson. 2006. Watkins. and practice. Fuller. Young Children. 60(3). S. 442–446. families.296 their child learn and grow. CA: Sage. Swick. Olson. Early Childhood Education Journal. Child care selection under welfare reform: How mothers balance work requirements and parenting. 60–67. state. Epstein. New York: Teachers College Press. K. Gonzalez-Mena. C. Knopf and Swick Comer. 76(9). Chrispeels. M. Columbus. J. & Sheldon. (2005). M. The strategies we have described convey the attitude and dispositions that teachers must possess to establish and maintain meaningful and positive relationships with families.