Parent and teacher relationships have long been viewed as important and necessary within the field of education. How teachers approach encounters with parents from the first day has a profound effect not only on how parents view the school, but also on the child's experience in and outlook on school and learning as a whole. Interaction and collaboration with an adult who spends at least 30 hours a week with the child is fundamental to establishing a successful parent-teacher relationship. Research into the field has consistently linked student success with parent involvement (Henderson and Berla 1994).
In this regard, teachers can be seen as an extension of the child's family, and both adults should work together for the child's sake. When the parent-teacher relationship is strong, the child will flourish. Christopher Daddis, an expert in child-parent relationships and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University, believes children almost always get better grades when parents participate in their education. At the heart of a good parent-teacher relationship should be regular meetings such as parent-teacher conferences and back to school nights, which can serve as a way for teachers to facilitate communication with parents and provide advice and recommendations. Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot believes teachers need to develop strategies, tools, and skills for supporting productive dialogue with parents. This can help to build strong relationships. Teachers appreciate supportive parents and appreciate when guardians volunteer to help with a class party or field trip.
David Kilpatrick, a school psychologist in the East Syracuse-Minoa school district, suggests parents should approach teachers and principals in an open-minded, supportive fashion to foster good working parent-teacher relationships. Although everyone believes parents and teachers should be allies and partners because they are both engaged in raising, guiding, and teaching children, this is not always the case and sometimes the relationship can become strained, competitive and adversarial rather than collaborative and empathic. There can be many natural barriers between parents and teachers. In Black Students/Middle Class Teachers, author Jawanja Kunjufu cited economics and perceived educational attainment as the biggest constraints and once acknowledged, then the proper steps can be taken to create concrete change through dialogue, professional development and understanding.
Founder and president of the Home and School Institute in Washington, D.C, Dorothy Rich believes: "A school needs to take the initiative to make parents feel welcome, to bring them into the process and talk in a language they can understand." Sociologist Willard Waller suggested in his book Sociology of Teaching (1932) the reason for some tension between parents and teachers is inevitable because of the different roles and functions they play in the lives of children. He claims parents have a "particularistic" relationship with their child in which the bond is deeply passionate and individualistic. Teachers, on the other hand, have a "universalistic" relationship with their students, one which is more distant and dispassionate. Jamie Modaff, director of the Sylvan Learning Center in Aurora, Illinois, agrees parents and teachers need to work as a team to come up with a plan for certain areas the child is struggling with.
Co-operation is also important according to Richard Bick, director of Oxford Learning in Naperville. He advocates parents arranging to meet a teacher face-to-face if there is a problem and preparing in advance what they want to say to get the most from their time.
Teachers have large numbers of parents to interact with and it can be too time consuming to meet with parents on a daily or even weekly basis. Instead, short notes or telephone messages can take the place of in-person conferences. However, with the growing popularity of the internet, many parents and teachers in the United States are using email and student management systems, which first began to appear in American schools in the early 2000s, to keep in touch and build upon their parent-teacher relationship. Student management systems are now considered so popular their use is commonplace in schools throughout the country. The educational marketing company Market Data Retrieval found 97 percent of all districts had "substantially or fully implemented" some sort of student data management system. The system allows parents to monitor their children's entire educational career online. They have access to details of assignments, marks in tests and the status of homework. Terri Reh, a teacher at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, Colorado, won a statewide award for her efforts in using the internet to communicate and establish parent-teacher relations. She said: "Kids do better in school when mom and dad are involved."