A Closer Look

Family–School Partnerships: Five Tips for Successful Problem Solving With Parents

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It is well established that when parents and educators engage with one another, students benefit. While traditional one-way parental involvement in student activities offers some benefit to students, the impact is multiplied when parents and teachers work jointly and share responsibility for children’s success. Parents and teachers have unique knowledge, information, experiences, and perspectives about their children and students. Unfortunately, this information is not always shared effectively between homes and schools. Two-way sharing between teachers and parents is important for all children, but it is essential for students whose learning and achievement are at risk because of challenges with behavior, social–emotional functioning, or learning skills.

School psychologists can help build bridges between home and school to promote successful outcomes for students with academic and behavioral concerns. By providing consultation, school psychologists can bring parents and teachers together to engage in joint problem-solving strategies and create a plan of action that addresses the needs of students at home and school, thereby setting them on a positive course.

However, facilitating successful parent–teacher problem-solving meetings is often more easily said than done. Here are five partnership-building tips to increase the chances of successful parent–teacher problem-solving meetings.

1. Address the Problem Immediately

Challenges can be addressed most effectively when teachers and parents make contact at the earliest signs of struggle. Discussing issues right away allows teachers and parents the ability to develop a treatment plan quickly and effectively.

2. Focus on Strengths

One of the basic building blocks of a strong parent–teacher relationship is that teachers and parents stand united on helping children. Focusing on children’s strengths, and the strengths of the partnership, allows teachers and parents to build on positive opportunities and experiences in a constructive way.

3. Strengthen Home–School Connections

Point out similar experiences between parents and teachers. Parents and teachers may have different experiences with the same child and may have different perceptions about the problem focus or treatment. By acknowledging similarities between parents and teachers, school psychologists provide opportunities to come together, recognize their shared goals related to benefits for the child, and develop those shared goals.

4. Respect Uniqueness

Children benefit most when their caregivers and teachers know one another and have some basic information about “how things work” at home and school. School psychologists can encourage parents and teachers to be open to differences across settings by probing for more information about reasons and rationales behind practices and routines.

Diversity among parents and teachers may be present. For example, there will be situations where cultural, ethnic, or language differences exist. When promoting partnerships in these situations, acknowledge and respect the uniqueness of each party, demonstrate ways in which the diversity of experiences and culture is a strength, and identify areas where similarities are present.

5. Provide Structure

Prepare and use structured problem-solving steps to systematically solve problems. Prepare and share agendas with parents and teachers prior to and during meetings. Redirect back to the agenda to keep focus on strengths and solutions. Provide opportunities on the agenda for everyone to share. Both parents and teachers have important information to share when it comes to the child. Use opportunities to integrate information obtained from parents and teachers so they feel connected and unified in their efforts.

Remember, as with all relationships, building partnerships takes time. Invest time and resources to ensure parents and teachers are active, essential partners throughout the problem-solving process.

For more tips on family–school partnerships, visit our website, tapp.unl.edu.

About the Author

Amanda Witte & Susan Sheridan
Amanda Witte, Ph.D. is a Research Assistant Professor at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools (CYFS). Her research is focused on family-school partnerships, early learning and rural education. She has extensive experience with promoting family-school partnerships as a consultant, trainer, and researcher. Dr. Witte has experience engaging educators and parents in qualitative and quantitative research, having collaborated with approximately 250 school districts to create research-practice partnerships. She delivers workshops and training in family-school partnerships to parents, educators and service providers throughout North America, and facilitates the ongoing coaching of TAPP consultants. She develops and delivers in-person and online professional development packages to enhance the skills and competencies of education professionals. Susan M. Sheridan is George Holmes University Professor of Educational (School) Psychology and the Director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is internationally recognized as a leader in parent engagement, family–school partnerships, early childhood intervention, social-behavioral interventions for students at risk, and rural education. Sheridan has published more than 200 books, chapters, and journal articles on these and related topics. She has received more than $63 million in research and training grants from agencies including the Institute of Education Sciences, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation. A Fellow of Division 16 of the American Psychological Association and past president of the Society for the Study of School Psychology, Sheridan was bestowed the 1993 Lightner Witmer award by APA’s Division of School Psychology for early career accomplishments; the 2005 Presidential Award from the National Association of School Psychologists; the 2014 University of Nebraska Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award; the 2015 Senior Scientist Award for lifetime career accomplishments from APA’s Division of School Psychology; and 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards from both Western Illinois University’s Department of Psychology and the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Educational Psychology. She holds a doctorate in educational (school) psychology from University of Wisconsin-Madison.