An open letter to parents and teachers

Tiffany Taylor and Cynthia Williams

Every parent wants their child to have options, to pursue their dreams, and to have a quality of life better than their own. A successful education can prepare a child for a life of her choosing.

As a program director for Black Family Development with 27 years of experience in child welfare and substance abuse, and the executive director of Teach For America Detroit with more than 10 years of experience in education and affordable housing, we know from our professional experience that an excellent education requires strong relationships between parents and teachers. We’ve also lived it personally as a mother and daughter who navigated the Detroit Public School system over the years.

In honor of National Parents Day, we wanted to share a few things we’ve seen work well with families, parents and schools: trust, communication and support.

As our many dedicated Detroit educators know, parents are the first teacher in their child’s life. Parents have the greatest insight into their student’s strengths, passions and dreams. Educators, as you work to build a genuine trusted parent-teacher partnership we encourage you to allow for humble moments when you welcome parents to teach you about who their students are, what might influence and motivate them, what challenges to anticipate, and what they’re working on at home. Trust parents as the main leader in their child’s life. Be open to learning from parents as much as you learn from your students.

To parents, it is important to proactively contribute to building a relationship with your child’s educators. Trust teachers with information about what has worked well for your student in prior classes and what hasn’t. Be specific about what you expect from your child’s teacher and, if you suspect that something happening in the classroom is manifesting at home, let your child’s teacher know. Genuine trust matters and sets you and your student’s educator up to lean on each other throughout the year.

A successful partnership also requires open communication. To teachers, invite parents into your classrooms as much as you can and ask parents what mode of communication works best for them. For example, we've witnessed outstanding teachers create weekly opportunities for parents to come in and work with students during their math time allowing parents a co-teaching experience. Whether or not schedules allow for parent participation during the school day, the important thing is creating a clear line of sight for parents to see into your work with their children and communicating ways in which parents can support classroom learning. This requires creativity, commitment and humility, but ultimately pays dividends.

To parents, communication to your student’s teacher is equally important. In our respective roles, we sometimes hear that parents may not feel empowered to speak up because of a variety of complex factors related to differences that may exist between parents and teachers. All parents have valuable insight to contribute; know that your engagement will help ensure your child has a better experience in school. Share with teachers what your students are particularly excited about. Ask about the learning taking place in the classroom and what’s happening day to day. Share what your hopes and dreams are for your child and ask for resources that will help get them there. Strong communication with your student’s teacher helps ensure you’re aligned to propel your child down a successful life path.

Whether in our own experience as parent and child, or in the relationships we see through our work with schools and families, the growth we see in academic, social and emotional development when parents and teachers have strong relationships is immeasurable. It is also an opportunity to send a powerful message to our students: there are multiple caring adults who are committed to your success and believe in your potential.

Tiffany Taylor, executive director,

Teach For America Detroit

Cynthia Williams, Tiffany’s mother,

program manager,

Black Family Development Inc.