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Tool: Exploring my assumptions about working with parents and families

Working with parents and families can be both rewarding and challenging. Often, success depends on the nature of the relationship between teachers and families. Mostert (1998) outlined 10 assumptions that are central to developing positive interactions with parents.*  

Talk with your mentor and colleagues about:

  • Where you stand in relation to each assumption outlined below
  • Ways to act on or demonstrate that you have this assumption
  • What the challenges are in consistently acting as though the assumption is true
  • What risks are involved in acting as though the assumption is not true

Place a check mark next to each assumption that you agree with:


Why is this idea important?

  • Parents generally wish to cooperate with you and your colleagues in the best interests of their child.

This assumption invites parents and families to collaborate, communicates that you are willing to consider their point of view and conveys the expectation that they are valued collaborators.

  • Parents and other family members know a great deal about the student that you might not know.

This information can help you solve problems and address the students' academic, social, emotional, cultural and linguistic needs in ways you are not aware of.

  • There is a distinction between what you know about each student and what the parents know about their child.

The different, but overlapping sets of information can be helpful in addressing the student's needs.

  • Students spend less time under direct supervision of any professional and greater amounts of time in other situations where family members are in closer contact.

Professionals rely heavily on the support of families to carry through with interventions outside school.

  • The nature of each educational intervention must often be modified according to the unique needs and configurations of each individual family.

Responsive instruction must take a range of factors into account in order to meet individual needs.

  • You have a professional obligation to include families wherever possible in the entire decision making process that leads to effective interventions with their child.

Family members, especially parents, have legal and ethical rights to be fully informed of the potential implications of chosen interventions, as well as their own responsibilities before, during and after any intervention.

  • It is essential to guard against stereotyping parents. Each family is a separate entity with its own unique set of strengths, weaknesses and life history.

There is much you do not know about families’ lives that can have important consequences for learning opportunities for the student.

  • While still according families and parents appropriate respect, it is also important not to be overwhelmed or intimidated by parents who might be aggressive, overly passive or in some way socially inappropriate.

As a professional your first obligation is to educate the students in your charge.

  • In interactions with parents, be forthright about your limitations as a professional.

Parents must sometimes be reminded that there are practical, legal and ethical parameters within which you must operate. This can help you communicate your role in assisting them and their child.

  • In any collaborative venture with parents and families, there is a continuum of involvement that overlays any action any party takes—ranging from noninvolvement to excessive involvement.

Wherever parents fall on the continuum, there are many reasons, often unknown to school personnel, for any level of involvement or disengagement.

*From Mostert, M. P. (1998). Interprofessinal collaboration in schools.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon as cited in Sandy Christenson’s module on Parent-Teacher Partnerships: Creating Essential Connections for Children’s Reading and Learning (University of Minnesota), http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/projects/fine/resources/materials/reading_success_workshop.html (retrieved 6/14/04).

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