Parent-Teacher Bonding in a Singapore School
by Edwin Choy
Feb 1, 2021
Introduced by Carey Glass
Simple, innovative brilliance describes this application of SF. In Singaporean society, where parents have such high expectations of their children’s education that it damages parent-teacher relationships at school and requires parents to shift to a growth mindset at home, Edwin has brought an astute application of SF.
For three years, he has run SF Parent-Teacher Bonding sessions one month and six months into the school year to transform interactions and maintain progress. This case study and application is a description that you can lift and apply – SF at its simplest, purest and most effective.
I had already done 40 hours of Solution Focused Leadership training for the Farrer Park Primary School in Singapore for 28 of their middle managers and school leaders, followed by three hours of coaching in small groups of six managers over one year.
We followed this training with 16 hours of solution-focused training for teachers in cultivating a common language of hopeful talk to motivate students and helping them make progress.
When we completed this training, the school principal asked me what else the school could do to create a nurturing learning environment for the students. I suggested having a parent-teacher bonding session to increase collaboration between teachers and parents.
This suggestion started a three-year journey leading to a record of the positive stories of success that culminated in this report.
In Singapore, some parents have such high expectations of their children’s education that they often unfairly place the responsibility on teachers for their children’s well-being at school. This shift of responsibility often results in unhealthy parent-teacher relationships, often brought from seemingly competing desired outcomes between both parties.
In this parent-teacher bonding workshop, the goal is to help facilitate a bond between parents and teachers so that they work together collaboratively to foster a nurturing environment for their children at home and school. Cultivating a mindset of hope using the Solution Focused approach as a common tool creates a common language and mindset for parents and teachers to begin to speak positively about each other, their children and the school.
Train and prepare the teachers for this session by applying the Solution Focused tools they have learnt for use with parents.
Start the parent-teacher bonding session with all new parents of this school’s six Primary One classes in the first year. The training is to be done class by class. Parents of each class will come together for this bonding session. It gives parents who have not met each other a chance to network and get to know each other. This way, the session builds bonds between teachers and parents and between parents of the children in the same class.
In the second year, we conduct the same training for both primary one and primary two classes. Again, class by class for all 12 classes. We are now in our third year of running this workshop.
We conduct this parent-teacher bonding session at the beginning of the year, sometime in February, when there is already a month of progress in school for the children and teachers. This session allows us to facilitate reflection by the teachers and parents on what went well in the first month of school and generates positive energy right from the beginning of the year.
Somewhere in the middle of the year, we conduct a follow up session. This time, it is a parent-child-teacher bonding session. The children come with their parents for this session, where we facilitate fun activities for bonding with each other and with their teachers, thus creating more positive experiences for all.
- With the blessings of the principal, we put all the primary one class teachers through a 2-hour session on how to apply their solution-focused skills in the bonding session to generate a collaborative relationship with parents. They had already had 16 hours of solution-focused education training where they had learnt skills of:
- Building on the success of the students to create awareness of their strengths and competence
- Exception finding to identify past resources that lead to solutions
- Helping students visualise and articulate their preferred future
- Using the Scaling tool to help students make small steps of progress
In this 2-hour session, we helped the teachers apply those skills with parents and especially to use them at the parent-teacher bonding session.
On the first day of school, where all parents of Primary One classes gathered, the principal invited me to give a one-hour parenting talk on the importance of bonding with their children and nurturing a growth mindset at home. This introduction thus enabled me to bring out the specific nature of Solution Focused principles into a parenting context.
A group of us who are Solution Focused practitioners got together to design the three-hour parent-teacher bonding session. We decided the programme would include:
- Fun introductions and getting to know each other to break the ice
- A short parenting education to help parents create a nurturing environment at home for their children
- One hour of parent-teacher bonding using Solutions Focus language of hope
- 30 mins of Q&A time with teachers in their children’s classroom
The Parent-Teacher Bonding Programme
Introduction: It takes a village to raise a child
First, we ask the form teachers and subject teachers present to introduce themselves
Then we pair up parents to introduce themselves and their children to each other for two minutes. We do this for three rounds such that each parent would have met three other parents and feel relatively comfortable in the group.
Then we have the entire group sit in a circle and invite each parent to share their name and child’s name in this class to everyone. This sharing gives a face to the parents of the classmates of their children.
In addition to introducing themselves, we ask each parent to share “one thing I appreciate about my child is…” This exercise begins the first positive descriptions of their children.
Begin with the End in Mind - Best Hopes and Future Perfect
Then we have the parents reflect on the following future perfect for their child in this class: “Imagine it is the end of the school year. It has been a successful year for your child, for you and your child’s teacher. You all have smiles on your faces. What has made it such a good year? Come up with as many things as you can!”
After a minute of reflection, we have the parents pair up with the one next to them and discuss what they have reflected on. Then we have them share what they have discussed with the entire group. By the time all the pairs share their future perfect with the group, the energy level is palpable.
What Has Gone Well So Far - Building on Success
We ask each person to reflect on what has gone well so far and invite the teachers to share with the group “what has gone well with the students in class” since the start of the school year. Parents feel good that their children are adjusting well at school.
Then we ask each parent to share, “What has gone well with your children since the start of the school year?” Focusing on what has gone well helps parents build on the successes of their children. I am impressed by what the parents in every class come out with and the impact the positive descriptions have on the entire group of parents. The facilitators' observations were a testament to the all-round shot of positive energy experienced when parents built on the positive aspects of community life in school.
Ask the Teacher Time – Creating Understanding
We facilitate a time when parents can ask the teachers questions to help them understand their children’s educational needs in class. This questioning time is potentially a time of tension as some parents, being overly eager for their children to do well, may be demanding in their queries or requests. However, spending the past hour with lots of positive energy reduces that possibility.
As facilitators, we also state the boundaries that “we will turn down no sincere queries, but parents are not to turn this time into a complaint session.”
Circle Time - Next Steps
In this final round of discussions, we have parents and teachers sit in a closed circle and have each person share what they are willing to do to make their best hopes for their children become a reality.
We flash two questions for individual reflection before we ask each teacher to be the first to share “What will teachers do to help your child have a good year in class?”
Then we ask each parent to share, “What will you as a parent do to support the teacher in helping your child have a good year in class?”
Feedback from Teachers about the programme
I asked three experienced teachers for feedback on this programme who have been participants for three years. Here is their collective feedback verbatim:
How was the session helpful to you as the teacher of the class?
“A positive start to school by building rapport between teachers and parents. As we get to know the parents better, communication with them is easier. Both stakeholders can communicate how they can support each other for the benefit of the children. It was also an opportunity to communicate the teachers' expectations of the children to the parents and how the parents can send the same message to their children at home.”
“The parent-teacher bonding sessions helped to build rapport and good teacher-parent as well as teacher-student relationships. Having it at the beginning of the year helps the form teachers to communicate their teaching philosophy, beliefs, expectations and routines to parents, which in turn help us reinforce it with pupils at home. As such, there is a positive partnership between parents and teachers to help the pupils feel good about school and be successful in school.”
“We get to know the parents better through the discussion and sharing. We share our expectations as class teachers right from the start of the year. We meet the parents in a positive setting at the start of the year to build rapport and see each other face to face. It makes communication throughout the year much easier.”
What was better as a result of the bonding between you and the parents?
“Communication was definitely better. For my class, every parent was on board the class dojo, which made the dissemination of information easier and sharing of what is happening in class more efficient. Home support for the students was also better as parents are aware of what is expected of their children in terms of their learning and behaviour.”
“Parents and pupils trust the form teachers with their learning. Routines are set in place with parents reinforcing it at home too. Teachers can also give constructive feedback to parents with regards to pupils learning in a positive manner. Parents also benefit from being involved in the pupils' learning and how they can better support their child. Ultimately, parents develop a greater appreciation for the important role teachers play in their child’s learning.”
“Parents get to meet the teachers and ask questions they may have. It helps allay the anxiety they may have for their kids.”
This year, I noticed one teacher I had not seen before. She is new to the school and I thought feedback from her would be useful. Here is her feedback verbatim:
How was the session helpful to you as the teacher of the class?
“The session was encouraging for me as a beginning teacher, as the setting felt safe and comfortable. It helped to reduce some of the anxiety that I had regarding communicating with parents for fear of their protectiveness of their children. The session also helped me to formally introduce myself to the parents and allow them to know me and my teaching philosophy better. I believe this would, to some extent, assure them that their child is in safe hands. It also helped me to understand that even my best students' parents might have concerns about their child’s well-being and academic progress. I got a better understanding about the parents' expectations for the child and allowed me to set clear goals and expectations for my students.”
What was better as a result of the bonding between you and the parents?
“I am less afraid about communicating with parents and I feel that it helps demystify some questions parents might have about what is happening in school and in class. Parents seem less intimidating to me and attempt to communicate and work with me for the development of their child."**
“Once again, thank you for the inspiring session :)”
I invited a teacher from another school to be a facilitator for this training, and here is his feedback:
“As a counsellor who had used Solution Focussed in individual work with student-clients, I was happily surprised by the impact of its approach when working with groups. It brings disparate groups of people together when the cultivation of hopeful conversations brings out the commonality of purpose and community in working towards commonly desired objectives. The energy in the group was palpable when parents are engaged in talking about positive moments and traits of their children. Similarly, these dynamics bring out the positivity of impact when parents reflect their moments of growth in their time with teachers and peers in the classroom. This ability to express a celebration of community bonding through the careful cultivation of meaningful language through the carefully crafted workshop structure was a real eye-opener to the potential that Solution Focussed conversations can have in the larger context beyond individually counselling. (I must say that I had not helped co-create the workshop but was given the training and briefing on conducting the workshop, and hence can be seen as a disinterested party)”
Feedback from Parents about the Programme
We asked for feedback from the parents; everyone who responded found it helped, and 91% found it very helpful. Here are some of the verbatim comments from the parents:
Describe how this session has been useful to you
- “The sharing enhances the communication between parents and teacher and will definitely contribute positively to the child’s learning.”
- “The discussion was engaging and we got to know other parents' opinions.”
- “Hearing from and meeting the teachers and other parents.”
- “Understand how teacher and parent can work together to provide the kids with a better learning environment.”
- “Knowing the teacher and understanding that all classmates and students are enjoying their time in school is impressive.”
- “Share positive words with other parents.”
- “Informative and supportive and we should have more of such sessions.”
- “Very interactive and good to meet other parents and the teachers.”
- “Very useful and productive to bond with teachers and other parents.”
- “Highly effective trust building exercise between parents / teachers for children’s benefit.”
- “Great session on the sharing between teachers and parents.”
This document reports a summary of how Solution Focussed conversations have enabled me to create a coherent structure of training based on the following principles:
Shared vision – the Solutions Focussed approach in structuring the workshop was truly an exercise in sharing a vision, from school leader to parent. The training of how different stakeholders in the community could use it was an insight that I am happy to share as it brought purpose and meaningful connections by all.
Positive Outcomes – because everyone was engaged in looking at present and future positive dimensions of school life (as opposed to an unhealthy scrutiny of problems), the instruments of hopeful conversations embedded in the Solutions Focussed approach were readily adopted.