The Pandemic Effects on Parent-Teacher Relationships
I read an interesting piece in the Globe and Mail by Bonnie Stelmach, a University of Alberta Education Professor, investigating the changes that happened with parent-teacher relations as a result of the pandemic. She drew her information from an Alberta web-based survey and interviews with parents and teachers. There were positives and negatives which are good to be aware of because this experience can provide a catalyst for awareness, change and growth. Although the study was conducted in Alberta, the findings speak to the pandemic online education experience.
While this survey did not go into specifics for children with exceptional needs, many of the issues and findings are applicable.
Here are the highlights from the survey. You can read the article about the survey in its entirety here.
The Survey Findings
Findings from the Alberta study are based on collected data from 1,067 parent survey respondents, 566 teacher survey respondents and 10 parents and 10 teachers who were individually interviewed.
- 45% of parents said their understanding of teacher’s demands and their respect for them increased
- 74% of teachers said they know their families better
- 43% of parents reported decreased interaction with teachers
- 18% of parents reported improvement in their relationships with teachers
In the beginning…
When schools first closed, there was a lot of confusion. Moving classroom learning into the home brought different values and expectations to the forefront. Teachers worried about parents who weren’t communicating and why. Many parents were overwhelmed and either minimized the time spent on school or dropped out completely. Not everyone had the technology to participate in online learning or were able supervise several children at a time. Some parents were juggling full time work and childcare and couldn’t put the time into schooling.
Teachers weren’t sure how much to press families, particularly if they didn’t know all of their at-home circumstances. Parents were put into the teacher role and found it difficult to motivate and support their children the way teachers could. “Parents aren’t meant to be teachers, ” was a common feeling among parents.
The intrusion of school into the home space caused tension. This blurring of boundaries caused some parents to give up on schooling to keep the family peace. Teachers may not have known about these trade-offs that families had to negotiate. They may have assumed apathy drove parents away.
Disappearance of Boundaries
When home and school became one, students were distracted by TV, video games, and other things they enjoyed doing at home. It was hard to maintain focus and motivation. Parents saw that teachers could motivate. Some children wouldn’t work unto they saw their teacher online. Roles became blurred as parents tried to help with learning without having the professional teacher’s role.
Zoom was a convenient way for teachers to have timely and meaningful discussions about children’s learning and progress. It was an eye-opener for parents to sit with their children through online learning; many admitted that report card comments and discussions at parent-teacher interview now made sense. Parents don’t always know their children as students like teachers do.
The Next Phase of Normal
As we go forward into the next school year, it will be important to look at what a family values and prioritizes. While parents may value education, keeping a good family dynamic may be more important. Teachers and parents may want to discuss the parent-child or family dynamic to determine whether or how parents can play a supportive role in their children’s education. Homework may not be something parents want to deal with because of the effects it has on their family life. It doesn’t mean they are apathetic or don’t care. (We never did homework when my two children were in school as it was too stressful for them and they needed down time after navigating school life all day.)
The pandemic has also given the opportunity to share progress outside of the traditional parent-teacher interviews and report cards. Online meetings may make parents feel safer and able to ask more questions or to admit not understanding something and seeking clarification.
Parents do teach, but it happens in the context of daily family life (teachable moments). Doing math while cooking is positive and fun, while sitting down and working together on a math equation may not be.
A teacher’s authority is different from a parent’s. While parents and teachers work together to raise a child, they don’t perform the same roles. The pandemic helped us to see the value of each of these roles and how they can work together and compliment each other. Going forward, we know so much more than we did at the beginning of the pandemic and the introduction to online learning at home. We have gained skills, knowledge, and a better understanding of the impact that online instruction has on children and families.
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During a usual school year, Maria Davis-Pierre is one of those parents who regularly reach out to their children’s teachers. A mother of three in Lake Worth, Fla., and the founder of the parenting organization Autism in Black, Ms. Davis-Pierre checks in monthly via email and requests meetings upon receiving progress reports, working with her kids’ teachers to make sure that her eldest daughter especially — who is 8 and on the autism spectrum — is meeting her goals and getting the most from her schooling. “Especially for Black parents, we have to let them know that we’re involved,” Ms. Davis-Pierre said. “We want to know what’s going on.” The most successful relationships between families and educators are rooted in routine exchanges that go beyond periodic parent-teacher conferences. “Trust is going to be an important component,” said Herman Knopf, a researcher who studies early childhood education at the University of Florida. “It is developed over time between teachers and parents through consistent, open communication.” And the benefits of a robust relationship with a child’s teacher are clear: “It enables the teacher to better understand the child,” Dr. Knopf said, “so that the strategies and tactics that she uses to support learning in the classroom are supported by the knowledge that the parents bring in.”