A parent and former middle school teacher uses thank you notes at the start of the year to foster ties with her child’s teachers.
By Johanna Rauhala for edutopia.org
As a peer coach who supports new teachers and a former middle school teacher, I’m a dual citizen of the worlds of parenting and education. I tread lightly here because I never want my role as a school employee to come across as meddling or to create power struggle with the teacher. I rarely mention my job or my role and keep my school and parent dual citizenship to myself.
But lately I have been thinking about the ways that I, as a parent, can support teacher resilience. I want to build a relationship that includes a personal connection so my daughter’s teachers know they can communicate openly.
At the end of each school year, I often write emails or letters to teachers to thank them for their efforts with my daughter and to express my appreciation for the hard work they do. This year, as my daughter entered her first year of high school, I decided to do something different: I wrote my thank you notes at the start of the year. Writing initial notes of gratitude offers opportunities to connect, provide support, and share information with your child’s teachers.
CONNECT WITH GRATITUDE
The first few weeks of school are a flurry of organizational tasks, learning names, and getting to know the classroom community. In the emails I wrote to teachers, I thanked them for being my daughter’s teacher and noted one or two things my child had mentioned about the first week in class. “She loved the interactive map and the new ways to lay out information,” I wrote to her geography teacher. Sharing specific examples of their work conveys my appreciation for what might otherwise be unrecognized effort.
Another email, to her drama teacher, mentioned the thespian club meeting my daughter had attended during lunch that week and how the teacher had given up his lunch time to facilitate. In these emails, I also briefly mention the impact these interactions had on my daughter.
Another note, to her English teacher, mentioned the fact that my daughter had read a story that made her angry at the protagonist, a feeling she fervently discussed over the dinner table. By connecting her concrete experiences to their work, I express my sincere appreciation for these moments in the first days of school.
Teacher well-being is a topic of much-needed discussion these days. There are many important resources on ways educators might build the stamina required for the demands of this profession, like “12 Ways Teachers Can Build Their Own Resilience,” which includes tips on developing empathy and prioritizing self-care. But I’m also interested in widening the scope of this lens, and considering ways communities—to include all of us, not just parents—can actively work to support teachers.
In this vein, I might ask: What does it mean to be a mindful, active parent in the continuum of school life? What does it mean to be a supportive, attentive community member in ways that support joyful and nurturing student-teacher relationships? What are some ways that communities can build connections to schools (and not, as it always seems to be, the other way around)?
It was with these questions in mind that I thanked my daughter’s teachers for their high expectations, and let them know that we, as her parents, would support—and reinforce—the teachers’ efforts to build safe classroom environments. We wanted the teachers to know that we would reinforce expectations, due dates, and respectful communication.
TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO INFORM
Positive relationships are an essential foundation for successful classrooms. One of the ways to build these relationships is to know students and families. In this spirit, I wanted to let the teachers know about some of my daughter’s challenges, like prior struggles with homework, and her strengths, such as her enthusiasm and creativity. I wanted them to know that if they had any questions they could always reach out. Using my initial communication to share information gives the go-ahead for teachers to offer information to me throughout the school year.
Tone matters: The tone of our communication to teachers matters. Given the number of emails, papers, and documents that float across a teacher’s desk each day, a positive and light tone is important. I kept this very much in mind as I wrote.
Respect the roles: The teacher is in charge. As educator-parents, a hybrid role, we may want to make suggestions or direct the teacher to do something for our child. This is a recipe for a power struggle, and one that will not only sour the year but result in a loss for everyone. As parents, we may offer gentle suggestions but should avoid directives.
Give genuine gratitude: Honor teachers. I am deeply grateful for the educators who have helped my daughter learn, grow, work, grapple with tough concepts, stretch, laugh, and toil. They have helped her grow as a human being, and each day they show up for her, and for all of our kids. This, in my mind, was the most important message I wanted to convey, and I said it. I meant it. And I still do.