Strengthening Parent-Teacher Relationships
As a Montessori teacher in training, Melissa Zheng ’15 ’19 was inspired by all she was learning about child development. She knew this information would help her continue growing as an educator, but she also wondered: Wouldn’t this knowledge help parents, too?
That question prompted Zheng to embark on an award-winning research project to explore the dynamics of parent-teacher communication. And that’s just the start for Zheng, who continues to explore the fascinating world of Montessori education while seeking out new ways to share valuable insights with parents and fellow educators.
“How can we, as teachers, reflect on parents’ needs and provide them with as much support as possible? They are such a key component in their child’s life and in our relationship with the child,” she says.
Zheng earned her teaching license through Alverno in 2015 and returned to complete her master’s degree in education in 2019. To earn her master’s degree, she needed to design and complete an action research project, identifying a question to study, gathering data, analyzing the findings and making recommendations.
Her project grew out of something she witnessed and wondered about: the written feedback about each child’s development that teachers were expected to share with parents each day.
“Teachers would put these notes in the children’s cubbies or in backpacks,” she recalls. “Some of these notes were still in the cubbies and backpacks, and they hadn’t been read. It made me wonder what the potential barriers may be. Was the information not of interest to the parent? If so, what information would interest the parent?”
She took her observation and her questions to her Alverno professors, who helped her put the research project into motion.
“Through the classes at Alverno, I got to focus my question a bit more,” she recalls. “I started off thinking about how can I support parents and caretakers in their work. I also wanted to include teachers in my study because they are the ones who are working with the children every single day, and they have a lot of information to share with parents.”
While Zheng couldn’t change her school’s communication policy, she could ask questions to make sure both parents and teachers were getting the information they needed, in a way that made sense and was in each child’s best interest. So her research question became: “What do Montessori educators and parents of infants and toddlers value in parent-teacher communication?”
She found that parents valued insights about their children’s social-emotional growth, both their achievements and their struggles. Parents also wanted to know how to make their home life consistent with what children experienced in their Montessori classrooms. And both parents and teachers felt that a positive working relationship between them must be rooted in trust, respect and open communication.
Ultimately, Zheng encourages educators to understand their priorities: What are they attempting to learn about families, and what information will they need to gather in order to provide meaningful experiences to children and parents?
Zheng submitted her research to the American Montessori Society’s 2020 thesis contest, and she won first place. She will now be able to share her findings with AMS members and other educators, a role she relishes as she continues training as a Montessori educator. While schools have closed, Zheng still has an eager audience with whom to share her expertise.
“I’m providing informal consultations to friends and family to support them as best I can,” she says. “They’re home with their kids and appreciate ideas for what to do!”
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