Family is the first learning environment for children, and parents are their first teachers. The whole complicated and systematic school education is actually based on the familial education. However, the significance of the familial education and its great influence over our current school-based education has not yet been fully realized. As a result, inadequate and ineffective communication between school teachers and the parents has remained a common problem in some local Chinese areas (this paper will mainly focus on the circumstances in a few Beijing local primary and junior high schools), which has affected children’s natural growth and sometimes causes dissatisfaction on both sides of the parents and the teachers. The purpose of this paper is first to find out, within possible power, whether Chinese parents and teachers have realized the fundamental function of familial education, and what the current parent-teacher communication and its effects are like here in three Beijing local primary and junior high schools; and then to inform school teachers as well as parents of the significance of familial education, its great influence over school education, and some useful ideas and approaches on how to build and maintain effective parent-teacher communication here in the Chinese context.
2. Literature Review
2.1 The significance of familial education
2.1.1 The traditional views
As a country with an ancient civilization, China has a traditional value on the significance of familial education, especially at an early stage of young children’s development. This can be vividly illustrated by a famous Chinese anecdote: In order to ensure a positive learning environment and a smooth effective familial education, the mother of Mencius had changed their dwelling place three times, and finally settled down near an old-style private school. Without his wise mother and good familial education, Mencius could never have become a great thinker in Chinese history. Chinese familial education in ancient times had an extremely broad range and a remarkable continuity. It concentrated on ethics and the standard behavior, and included the interference in almost every single act of the children (Yan, 1997). The familial education started from one was born, and may exist until he became very old. The West also has a traditional concern over familial education.
The British educator John Lurk believes that the familial education, especially at the early stages, has a great impact on one’s later development (Zhao, 1994). He said that the impression one got when he was young-no matter how vague and dim they might be, even undetectable-would leave us an extremely great and lifelong influence…as we change slightly the direction of the flowing at the source of the river, where the water force is still weak, and it can be easily converted; eventually, it will deviate to a completely different destination. In some Western countries, parents will no longer take care of the children when they become a youth of 18 years old; however, their responsibility of education has not come to the end. It is only that they have changed their emphasis and ways of education (Zhao, 1994).
2.1.2 The present ideas and circumstances
In the past 100 years, the educational science has been making great progress. However, there are also some disadvantages, one of which is that people seem to pay special attention to school education, but overlook other important branches, such as social education and familial education (Zhao, 1989). This will certainly do harm to children’s development and a nation’s economic and social progress. Fortunately, a worldwide attention has been paid to this issue late this century. Recent secular trends in the United States and other industrialized countries have given rise to a great deal of speculation and concern about the current status and the future of families. The interest in families has become so well-spread and the topic has reached such a national significance that in 1980 Americans witnessed, for the first time in history, a series of White House Conference on Families (Laosa & Sigel, 1982). With the increased attention being paid to families, new data have emerged as well as new issues and questions, bringing renewed vigor into the field of family research. Educationists come to an agreement that family is not only the first but possibly, for many, the most significant influence in children’s learning and development (Laosa & Sigel, 1982).
Therefore, familial and school education must go hand in hand and support each other. Good communication and effective co-operation among teachers and parents are called for, and this can never be accomplished without the efforts from both sides. The new tendency in the study of familial education also attracts the attention of Chinese educationalists. During the last two decades, a series of works have been written and related experiments have been conducted, showing a worthwhile effort to combine the extracted ideas of Western research and the valuable Chinese traditional views. Nevertheless, because of some traditional concepts, which have been just discussed, China is still behind the times. Unlike the Western tradition of capitalism, in which parents are regarded somewhat as “customers”, and thus leads to a close observation on the school and the teachers ensured by a series of laws, Chinese people have a traditional trust in school and its functionality, which can be traced back, to the feudal society, when school directly relates to the idea of imperial examination system, the wealth and high social status.
Parents and students worshiped whatever teachers said, and accepted whatever they believed. It was even offensive to question or challenge the school and the teachers, let alone try to promote changes. Moreover, traditional familial education leaves little freedom for the youngsters to develop their personalities and abilities (Yan, 1997), and it values obedience rather than an independent character. These inevitably affect our modern familial education. Inadequate communication exists because parents think the teacher is always right. And a research carried out by Lien-Mak, lee and Lud (1984) shows that Chinese parents have a reluctance to see children’s problems as psychological in nature, and traditional Chinese views of children as subservient to elders but representative of the family honor further contribute to the parents’ reluctance to use such behavioral techniques as ignoring, praise, and negotiation (Gorman & Balter, 1997).
2.2 The influence of familial education over school education
The significance of familial education discussed here is not just in a general sense that familial education will affect a person’s development for a lifetime, but specified in an area that it is the foundation of school education and has a great influence over it. The influence of familial education over school education can be categorized into the indirect and the direct.
2.2.1 Indirect influence of familial education
The indirect influence comes from the education that children have received before attending school. It is described as indirect because it is not formed through conscious study or imitation. It can be readily seen that living in the family since one was born, his family members’ words, behavior, and manners will be subtly affecting his own words, behavior and manners. This is not out of conscious copying or learning, but due to young children’s remarkable plasticity. They are so closely associated with their families, and out of an utmost trust in the family members, especially the parents, consciously or subconsciously, they regard their parents as their models (Zhao, 1994).
Thus, as the children step into the classroom on the first day “they bring with them a range of experiences; they carry attitudes and expectation learnt from their parents” (Stacey, 1991:26). As many teachers would agree or at least would later discover, ignoring and denigrating the learning and environment of the children before they attend school means denying them the opportunities to build on these experiences (Stacey, 1991). So where the teachers put parents down they put children down, too. Certainly, the indirect influence still exists after children attend school; it is only that it functions in a relatively more subtle manner.
2.2.2 Direct influence of familial education
After children attend school, direct influence of familial education over school education becomes more and more obvious. In the United States, HMI reports and continuing research claim that parents are essential partners in children’s education and teacher should be finding as many opportunities as possible to involve them more actively (Stacey, 1991). Familial education’s direct influence thus take the form of its interaction with school education: parents begin to cast their influence over the school and the teachers by playing a relatively more active role through sharing the responsibility of educating the children. They become the supporters, helpers, teachers, and policymakers in schools with a community approach, as categorized by Stacey (1991).
Social events such as parties, concerts and festivals are usually an important part of school life. Head teachers may feel that these are good opportunities for parents from different social and cultural groups to come together and to be part of the school community. Thus, when a social event takes place in a school with a community approach, the role for parents takes on a more vital aspect. Some parents will just enjoy taking a more active part than others and become the organizers; some appear to be disinterested or unforthcoming at first, but may later get involved, and some may always remain silent and passive; but, there is no elitism, for everyone is an art of the same school community. Supporters, like football fans, are very varied but what they have in common is that they all cheer on and want success for the home team—their children’s school; and it promotes children’s acceptance of the ‘community’. Some teachers are fortunate enough to have a handful of parents to help regularly in the classroom.
Sometimes parents are invited to tell stories of listen to children read, and sometimes they cook or sew with children in small groups. In each occasion, the teacher is always there to offer help and proper directions, ensuring the smoothness and effectiveness. These interactions can help develop an effective co-operation and a mutual understanding between teachers and parents, and they create moments that make children’s education more natural and broad. Although some teachers believe that parents should not be expected to “teach” children in school, either because it undermines their special skills and professional training or because other parents may object. However, an increasing number of teachers are beginning to appreciate parents’ unique relationship with their children and their continuous role in their child’s development. It is now mainly in reading that they are exploring ways to work more closely with parents, in which there is an element of accountability on both sides as teachers provide appropriate material and shared information and parents report back to the teacher about what the child has achieved. Thus, through working directly with parents in the education of the children teachers find that it leads to more understanding and therefore support from parents for the learning processes which go on in school.
The main place for parents as policy-makers is as governors, who has a greater say in almost every aspect of school life and administration, from the design of the curriculum to the appointment of the teachers. Although this actually accounts for very few, and even in this position of apparent power parents can find themselves taking a relatively passive role, they are there to help and support and “if they are on an interview panel, they have a real responsibility to appoint the best people for the school” . Parent-teacher association can also have a powerful position in the school; where the head teacher and teachers are involved, both the parents and teachers have found it a useful place to ask questions and give their opinions. Till now, the notion of parents as policy-makers is still new for schools and with present structure not easy to put into practice.
2.3 Communication between parents and school teachers
Above are some favorable situations and typical examples, illustrating the direct influence of familial education over school education and the preferable effects of good parent-teacher communication. But, more difficult and more specific, how to establish and maintain such effective communication? Contained in the following pages, a number of selected strategies and proven examples from Christopher’s Building Parents-Teacher Communication (1996), which have already in place in schools throughout the United States and are probably adaptable in China, will be introduced in the following four parts: communication before school begins, informing parents, involving parents and dealing with the common problems.
2.3.1 Communication before school begins
In most instances teachers do not think about communicating with parents of the students they will teach in fall. However, if time is taken to communicate with parents in some manner, the transition for incoming students seems to be smoother. Below are some of the useful approaches to communicate with the parents before school starts. On the very last day of school, many teachers try to find his/her new students and give them each a packet of information to take home that pertains to the classroom. In the packet is a letter to parents that may include: how to help children over the summer in maths, reading and writing, items needed for the next grade, how parents can become involved in the classroom, brief overview of curriculum, classroom policy, etc.
Also included in the packet may be two questionnaires for parents and students to fill out respectively and return before school starts. This allows teachers to have advanced insight into the strengths/weaknesses and interests of incoming students. Moreover, parents and students realize that their opinions are valued and the teacher cares enough to ask them questions. If the questionnaires are not returned, the teacher will know which parents need to be contacted in order to draw them into the classroom. Some teachers send out postcards or make phone calls to each parent prior to the first day of school to make a self-introduction and mention the items needed for the first day. This proves to be convenient and effective and it creates the opportunity to welcome parents and answer any question they may have.
2.3.2 Informing parents
To communicate with parents before school begins is just the very first step to build a hopefully effective parent-teacher communication. To further develop and enhance the co-operation and communication, teachers must be informative and maintain regular contacts with parents. Here are three selected proper ways to inform parents on a regular basis. Newsletters are the number-one way to reach all parents on a regular basis, with the purpose to communicate between school and home what is taking place in the classroom. It may contain nonacademic information, referring to the upcoming deadlines of assignment, tests, activities, announcement, news about what is going on in classroom or school, etc. Usually, it contains academic information as well, mainly concerned what skills or concepts were taught throughout the week and what new skills will be introduced the next week.
In many cases the only contact that parents and teachers have is when a child is having a discipline or academic problem. Research shows that the first contact with parents should be on a positive note, which is a great way to give positive feedback to a parent without spending a tremendous amount of time. A happy call can be made or a happy note sent (by students) to inform the parents of something wonderful their child has done, such as child always come to class prepared, child always hands in homework on time, and child has displayed some act of kindness to others. This can not only help children to get rid of the common fears and worries for parent-teacher communication, but psychologically link the communication with encouragement and pleasure in their minds.
2.3.3 Involving parents
Once the teachers begin to inform parents in appropriate approaches, they may notice that they are more eager to get involved in their child’s class activities. Teachers should now make use of this opportunity to construct a more close and direct relationship with parents. Here are some effective methods to get parents involved in their children’s school life and class activities. In many states it is becoming mandatory for parents to be involved in educational reform which allows parents to be directly involved in deciding issues that affect their children. For example, under New York State’s compact for learning, a shared decision team consisting of teachers, parents, administrators, and students work together to increase academic achievement. Organizing nights on a weekly or monthly basis gives families a place to participate in activities together.
The most popular activities include ball games, movies, and arts and crafts. The thought behind this approach is to get parents to come to school for fun activities and to make them feel comfortable in a school setting. It also encourages and models positive parent/child interaction. Those feelings will eventually carry over into the regular school day. Scholastic Book Club offers The Parent Bookshelf to parents through the school. Books are offered to parents to help their children via parenting books, software, videos, and toys. Teachers send home a flyer to parents and parents who order send the slip and money back to the teacher.
2.3.4 Dealing with the common problem
Working with parents can be tough and sometimes exhausting. It can be nerve wracking, and there are some parents you can never reach or make happy no matter what you do. So how to cope with this possible problem in parent-teacher communication? The page followed contains solutions, offered by Christopher (1996), to some common problems in parent-teacher communication. A. How to deal with an angry, irate parent?
First of all, let the parent vent, maintain eye contact, and most importantly, listen without reacting. By listening you may learn if either the parent or you are missing some information pertaining to the problem or situation. After ten to fifteen minutes you should state your response. Staying claim, listening and avoid put-downs helps defuse hostile confrontations. Realize that sometimes neither side will be able to agree. B. What to do when parents do not show up for a scheduled conference and do not announce in advance? This is a problem for many teachers. Inform parents, when setting dates, to call back home, or during school ask parents to let you (the teacher) know if they must cancel. Send reminder notices a few days in advance to jog a parent’s memory. Let the parents know how important it is.
C. How to deal with those children who go home and report what “they thought” the teacher said, and the parents are livid? Arrange a conference immediately with the parents, child, and administrator. In most cases, by the end of the meeting parents become aware that their child misunderstood what was said and the problem is solved. It is amazing how the story becomes changed when the teacher is present. Always have the child involved in situations like this because they are the ones who misunderstood what was said. D. How to handle situations where the teacher disagrees with the parents concerning their child?
The most important point for teachers to remember is that the parents know their child better. A year or more in classroom does not guarantee the teacher knows what is best for each child. When the teachers are challenged, they should back off because parents are in most cases the most important force in their child’s education and life. Above is just a few of the common but typical problems that may arise in parent-teacher communication on the part of the teachers, who are supposed to play a relatively more active role. It is important for both the teachers and the parents to realize that different viewpoints bring new meanings and new possibilities, and help to reach a mutual understanding.
2.4 Children’s success as the common goal
The success of the child is the real goal. There is no doubt that the role of the teacher is much more complex than it was twenty years ago. But then the whole society is, too. Teachers are part of a wed of influences and changes which affect not only themselves but the children they teach. Education is dynamic. Thus the role of the teacher is an evolving one. Those who have taught for many years have gone through the changes. But the reason for teaching has not changed—the children (Stacey, 1991). That is the starting point for parents and teachers to get together and work on. Hence, children’s feelings must be noticed and the parent-teacher communication should be directed to achieve positive effects on them—they are the center of education.
3. The design of the study
In order to obtain the first-hand information about whether the teachers and parents have realized the significance and the influence of familial education and about what effects of the existing parent-teacher communication have, especially on children, three questionnaires have been designed for teachers, parents and children to fill out respectively (see Appendix Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ).
Twenty-one teachers and twenty parents have been each given a questionnaire to fill in. Altogether forty-one brief and sincere letters and questionnaires have been sent to teachers and parents, whose children are, from two local primary schools and a junior high school, asking for their essential co-operation and participation. The questionnaires for teachers and parents are slightly different, with the same purpose to find out how teachers and parents think of familial education and what an effect their communication have had on the children as they can feel.
The questionnaires for the children almost have completely different content, with the aim to find out their true feeling about the communication between their teachers and parents. In order to ensure the efficacy of the questionnaires, young children below ten years old have been excluded, for they will be easily bored and can hardly sit down with serious and rational thinking. 15 junior high school students between 14-15 years old and 20 primary school pupils between 10-11 years old have been each given a questionnaire to complete. These three sets of questionnaires will be thoroughly discussed and analyzed later.
4. Analysis and discussions
In two weeks, the questionnaires have been sent out and collected; five of them turned out to be invalid. Therefore, the following analysis and discussions are done based on the 71 valid questionnaires.
Parents and teachers do think highly of familial education, but still its fundamental function has not been fully recognized. Responding to the first question, sltogether92.7% parents and teachers have chosen A or B, which indicates that they think familial education, is very important. However, only 30.8% chose B that definitely states familial education is fundamental in children’s education. Considering the significance and influence of the familial education, teachers and parents have different opinions.
Although parents have realized the importance of their own part in children education, there is a reluctance to communicate with teachers. As Table 5 shows, 42.1% parents chose B as the response to Question 5 which means, “they are too busy to communicate with teachers”. As we all know that Chinese teachers are extremely bust with usually a class of 40 (or even more) students to care for, but no teacher chose D and 80% chose C——“maintain a regular communication with parents”. It is true that some parents may be quite busy, but 42.1% is definitely too much. During some informal talks with the parents, some of them admitted that they trust the school and the teachers and they don’t think it is necessary to communicate with the teacher, if their child has been “OK” in school. Additionally, there is a common sense among the parents that if they appear active in communicating with the teacher, or if the teacher frequently contacts them, that usually means their child have got some problem in school; and other parents and students will also think like that.
So it is obvious that the influence of Chinese traditional ideas which have already been discussed, do exist in parents’ minds. But for those who communicate with each other, the benefit is also obvious: 85% teachers and 68.4% parents chose A for Question 6 (see Table 6) and thought their recent communication and co-operation has been advantageous in helping the children to make progress. As for the last question, 55% teachers and 47.4% parents chose D, that is, they think teachers, parents and children should all be responsible for the (possible) negative influence of parent teacher communication. This indicates that teachers and parents have begun to take into account or at least become aware of the response of children in their communication, and regard the children as an essential factor in the process of education.
A: Positive influence; help children make progress
B: Little influence; sometimes, produce negative effects
C: Negative influence; make children feel averse and afraid
D: Too little communication to have any influence
Children is the common concern, so what about their feelings about the parent-teacher communication? Data obtained from students’ questionnaires show that current parent-teacher communication has produced good results. When being asked, “Do you hope your parents will maintain communication with your teachers?” 43.8% students chose A—“Yes, I hope so.” That’s because many students benefit from it. After the communication between their parents and teachers take place, 53.1% students will have their parents on their side, patiently helping them to realize their shortcomings, and another 21.9% students’ parents will help them analyze their problems and provide encouragement.
However, there is still room for improvement. For question 5, only 0.6% student’ teachers and parents will communicate with each other, when they have received praise or won a prize; and 18.8% student will be scolded or even beaten by their patents(see table 7). Naturally, this will lead to negative results, proved by the data that 31.1% students feel nervous, afraid and uneasy about the communication between their parents and teachers. The old the children are the more independent they will become. Data also show that junior high school students tend to feel indifferent about the communication between their parents and teachers. 42.9% of them chose D as a response to question 3 to indicate their indifference, but only 11.1% primary school pupils had this choice. This may serve as a hint for parents and teachers to select different communicative approaches and strategies as children grow up.
In conclusion, owing to the limited scope of questionnaires, this thesis can only reflect very roughly that teachers and parents here in Beijing local schools have begun to realize the significance and great influence of familial education, and also the importance of parent-teacher communication. However, continuous efforts must be made to further clarity of fundamental function of familial education in children’s development. Active participation of parents is called for, and essential influence of parents’ involvement must be recognized by the teachers.
Children is the one-third of educational process, and their feelings must be noticed and respected; they are not the victims of criticism, but the ones to achieve success in school, and later in society, with the support and help from their parents and teachers. Therefore, with the common goal in mind—the success of the children—false beliefs and traditional old ideas must be got rid of, and new scientific concepts in education must be selected and introduced to Chinese teachers and parents, with the consideration of Chinese concrete realities and traditional values. Only by this means, can our education—familial, scholastic, and social in addition—ensure the natural and healthy development of Chinese children and their high level of competence in today’s highly-competitive society. It is obvious that this paper has an unavoidably tremendous limitation, due to the less enough number of questionnaires, which is indeed too small to achieve any generalizations or provide any suggestions. However, it is a worthwhile process to and get familiar with the scientific, academic research on education.