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Parents and Teachers Should Talk More for Students' Sake, Survey Finds

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By guest blogger Maggie DeBlasis

As a new school year starts, a private survey finds a communication gap between parents and teachers about children's major life events. 

The new survey, conducted by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield of the corporate training and leadership development organization VitalSmarts, indicates that this lack of communication "has potential to affect a child's success," a news release said.

"Parents can have a significant influence on empowering teachers and should stay in touch on major life events in their children's life," said Grenny, co-founder of VitalSmarts, in an interview with Education Week.

The survey asked 689 parents and 174 teachers mostly from the U.S. (though some international folks took part as well) subscribed to the VitalSmarts' newsletter about their experience with students' successes after major life changes. The results were split into five categories: death in the family, major illness, divorce or other family disruption, mood changes, or possible drug use.

General agreement from teachers was that if an event falls into one of these five categories, parents should inform teachers. However, a lot of parents don't.

The survey found that over the summer before it was conducted, 365 families of those responding reported having experienced a death, but only 78 parents told their children's teachers. For the 51 parents who reported a financial disruption in the family, 29 didn't inform teachers. And of 25 families who reported some sort of criminal issue—drug, alcohol, or otherwise—during the summer, 12 informed teachers and 11 didn't.

"There's so much shame associated with some of these events, parents might be concerned with who is aware of this information," Grenny said. "They might be more concerned with the consequences of sharing it and not the consequences of not sharing it."

According to a press release, teachers feel they don't hear about major changes in a student's home life, while parents feel they don't hear enough about their children's classroom behavior.

"Parents would love more feedback from teachers, but don't want to send information in the other direction," Grenny said. Parents fail to realize the "importance of taking time to set the teacher up for success and, by implication, the child too."

The most common concern among parents was wanting to be contacted about any general changes in behavior, which can be hard to keep track of when teachers have so many students. As one parent put it, "anything that concerns [the] teacher should concern me. They are effectively my representative during the largest portion of my child's waking hours."

Grenny said better communication lines between parents and teachers will benefit everyone.

 "When they say, 'It takes a village,' teachers are part of the village," Grenny said. "We need to include teachers. They aren't plumbers who just come and fix a pipe and leave."

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