This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. It is also Parent-Teacher Association week. This is apt, as mental health is strongly associated with children’s emotional, social and academic development. It is crucial for children that parents and teachers support each other because they play complementary roles in children’s education.
Here are some reasons why collaboration between parents and teachers is vital:
- When parents and teachers work together, they create consistent expectations for children’s behaviour and academic progress. Children understand what is expected of them and how to succeed. They are also less likely to play their parents and teachers off against each other.
- When parents and teachers have open lines of communication, they can share information about the child’s progress, strengths, and areas of development. This information can help both parties tailor their support and interventions to the child’s needs.
- Parents and teachers have different perspectives and expertise that can help children develop holistically. Parents can provide insight into their children’s personality, interests and home life which enables teachers to understand their pupils better.
- When challenges arise, parents and teachers can collaborate to find solutions. This problem-solving approach models resilience and resourcefulness.
Why are parent-teacher associations important?
A Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) is a group of volunteer parents and teachers who work together to make their school a better environment for children to learn. They raise extra funds through a wide range of activities and events. School budgets are under increasing pressure and PTAs can provide much-needed financial support for extra resources and facilities.
PTAs are also important for the following reasons:
- Community building: PTAs help build a sense of community within schools by bringing parents, teachers, and pupils together.
- Advocacy: PTAs can serve as a voice for parents and advocate for change that benefits the school and its students. They often work with school leaders and local authorities to influence policy decisions and address issues that affect the school.
- Support: PTAs can provide support for parents, especially those who are new to the school, helping them to navigate the school system. They can also provide advice on the best way to contact the school and who to contact.
- Partnership: PTAs can facilitate partnerships between schools and local businesses, organisations and charities.
Children’s emotional development
Children who experience consistent, positive emotional support from both parents and teachers are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better social skills and stronger relationships with others. Children learn by observing and imitating the behaviour of those around them. When parents and teachers model positive emotional behaviours, such as empathy, kindness and self-regulation, children are more likely to adopt those behaviours themselves. By working together, parents and teachers can identify potential emotional challenges early on and address them before they become more significant problems.
When children experience emotional challenges, such as anxiety, stress or social struggles, they need support from both parents and teachers. When parents and teachers work together to provide emotional support, children feel more secure and confident.
The relationship between parents and teachers is often stronger in primary schools. This is because parents often collect their children from school and chat to teachers at the school gates or bring their children into the classroom. Children are also mainly taught by one teacher who builds a strong relationship with their class. In secondary schools, although children are placed in a tutor group or form, they are taught by many teachers. In addition, as they become teenagers, children don’t want their parents to collect them from school and so the relationship is harder to develop.
Why is it important that parents and teachers support one another?
Parents and teachers each play a significant role in children’s education. Parents are the child’s first educators, and teachers are responsible for guiding them through their academic years.
Here are some reasons why collaboration between parents and teachers is essential for children’s academic development:
- Shared responsibility: when parents and teachers work together, they share responsibility for the child’s academic progress. This shared responsibility creates a team approach to education that can help the child succeed.
- Consistent expectations: parents and teachers co-create consistent expectations for the child’s academic performance. This consistency helps the child understand what is expected of them and how to succeed.
- Support at home and school: together, parents and teachers create a cohesive approach to support a child’s academic progress. Parents reinforce academic skills and concepts at home, while teachers can provide guidance and support at school.
- Holistic development: collaboration between parents and teachers can help the child develop holistically not only by addressing academic needs but also social and emotional needs that impact academic performance.
The emotional work of teachers
There is concern in the teaching profession that teachers are increasingly supporting children emotionally and mentally. A report published this month, Teaching: the new reality by the teachers’ charity Education Support and YouGov, the international research agency, found the following:
- 29% of children – 9 out of every class of 30 – are living in poverty.
- Children living in poverty are 72% more likely than other children to be diagnosed with a long-term illness. By the age of 11, they are four times more likely to develop mental health problems.
- 22.5% of all pupils or 1,900,000 children are eligible for free school meals.
- 1 in 5 parents said they struggle to provide their children with sufficient food due to the cost-of-living crisis.
- 69% of teachers help children with their emotions or mental health.
- 33% of teachers have helped their pupils resolve a family conflict.
External support, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), are severely under-resourced, limiting the help provided to schools and families. Only the most critical cases, such as children who self-harm, are accepted. Even then, teachers are reporting wait times of 18 months. The NHS and social services are similarly under pressure. Teaching: the new reality reported that 55% of children who needed it were given little support from CAMHS, the NHS or social services. This means that schools are trying to fill this gap in supportive intervention. One teacher told the charity Education Support:
“The stress and emotional toll of constant worry and care is huge. It’s hard to switch off from that. It’s not just me. I have known class teachers personally provide food and clothes for pupils.”
Because of these pressures, teachers are suffering from secondary trauma which impedes their ability to teach effectively.
What is secondary trauma?
Secondary trauma, also known as vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, is a form of emotional distress that results from exposure to the suffering experienced by others, such as students or colleagues. In the context of teaching, secondary trauma can occur when teachers are repeatedly exposed to the traumatic experiences and stories of their students, such as abuse, neglect, violence, or loss.
Secondary trauma has a significant impact on a teacher’s emotional wellbeing, affecting their mental health, job satisfaction, and ability to provide effective support to their students. Symptoms of secondary trauma may include feelings of helplessness, sadness, anxiety, anger, and emotional exhaustion.
The impact of secondary trauma on teachers can be exacerbated by factors such as a lack of support from colleagues and administration, high caseloads and inadequate training and resources to deal with the trauma experienced by their students. Additionally, teachers who have experienced their own trauma or have personal connections to the trauma experienced by their students may be more vulnerable to secondary trauma.
The academic impact of teachers’ mental health
There is emerging evidence from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of an association between teacher stress, burnout, depression and anxiety with poorer pupil academic achievement, engagement and behaviour. Teachers’ stress adds to children’s stress which, in turn, increases teachers’ stress – it is a vicious cycle.
Do parents understand the pressure on teachers?
Some parents understand the pressure on teachers, while others may not fully appreciate the demands and challenges that come with teaching. Teachers face a wide range of pressures in their work, including managing large and diverse classes, meeting the needs of individual students with different learning styles and abilities, adapting to changing educational policies and standards, and dealing with administrative and disciplinary tasks, among others.
The report Teaching: the new reality reported that 71% of teachers found that the additional responsibilities of supporting children emotionally and mentally had a negative impact on their mental health and the same percentage stated that they were emotionally exhausted.
Parents may also have their own expectations and concerns regarding their own child’s education and may not always appreciate the constraints and challenges that teachers face in meeting those expectations.
It is essential for parents to understand and appreciate the pressure on teachers and the critical role they play in their child’s education. Building a collaborative and supportive relationship between parents and teachers can promote understanding and mutual respect, while also providing teachers with valuable insights and perspectives on their students’ needs and experiences outside the classroom.
It is also worth bearing in mind that many teachers are also parents and understand the pressures at home. Teaching and parenting are two sides of the same coin: supporting one another is vital for children’s emotional wellbeing and academic progress.