Building a strong working relationship with your child’s teacher takes time, but it’s an investment sure to pay dividends. “Parents and teachers need to realize they are partners,” says Scott Mandel, a middle school teacher and author of The Parent-Teacher Partnership: How To Work Together for Student Achievement.

A strong parent-teacher partnership hinges on mutual respect and open communication. Both parties must be accessible. When the parent or teacher calls, sends an email, or requests a meeting, the other person responds quickly. When the student is struggling, the parent and teacher work together to come up with a solution. Then, both parties do as they agreed to make sure the plan is carried out.

Working in partnership doesn’t mean you’ll always agree on everything. But when you have different ideas for what’s best for your child’s education, a relationship with your child’s teacher will give you the best chance at a good outcome. Mandel spoke with us about building a strong and productive partnership.

What do you do to show parents you want to partner with them?

I’m flexible. I believe in making myself available for parents. I will meet parents as early as 7 a.m. I will talk by phone at night. If they know I’m willing to bend my schedule for them, they will see that this is a partnership.

How do you like parents to communicate with you?

I prefer email, though notes and phone calls are welcome. I don’t like it when parents just show up. I need there to be that mutual respect.

What other things can parents do to foster good communication?

They can keep up with their child’s progress in school, rather than wait to see the report card. There shouldn’t be any surprises when report cards go out. Parents should know the grades their child is going to get.

How can frequent communication benefit parents?

We can help them understand their child from a different perspective. We know things about their child that they do not. Teachers know about curriculum and child development in ways most parents don’t. Also, we see the child in a different environment. What we see at school might be different from what the parent sees at home.

What is your goal when you meet with a parent about a student?

Every situation is different. The key is knowing the needs of the child and coming up with a solution together where the child benefits.

What types of information do parents need to share with the teacher?

Anything that might affect their child in class, which is pretty much anything that happens at home. A death in the family; a change in ADHD medication. If we’re going to have a true partnership, I need to know about these changes sooner rather than later so I’ll know what’s going on with the child.

How do you help parents motivate their children to do their homework?

If I could come up with a single solution on how to motivate a middle school kid to do homework, I would be a millionaire. Every child is different. Some kids need a daily report. As a teacher, I will confirm that the homework assignment is written down, but I won’t write it down for them. The parent then confirms [that] the homework is done.

What do you advise parents about homework and television?

If you tell your child he can watch TV after he finishes his homework, he’s going to rush through the homework. Kids can record the shows they like and watch them on the weekends.

At what point do good homework plans sometimes break down?

There need to be repercussions at home. That’s where follow-up comes in. You have to have a teacher willing to take the time to help come up with a plan. Then, the parent needs to follow through at home.

How do you handle it when you have to tell parents something they don’t want to hear?

If we’ve established trust, it won’t be a problem. I’m not judging the parent for being a bad parent. I’ m here to help. When parents realize I have the best interests of their child at heart, the walls come down.

What motivates you to put so much energy into partnering with your students’ parents?

The more I can sell my parents on my program, the better my life is and the better the student’s life is.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.