Note: This post was written by Carole Richards.
With school conference time approaching, it is important to reflect on effective communication strategies with your child’s school and most importantly, his teacher. Here are some strategies I have found effective with our clients, and my own children.
You are the customer.
Whether your child attends a public school (you pay taxes) or a private school (you pay taxes and tuition), you are the customer. Keep a positive yet firm mindset when you request a reasonable solution to your child’s needs. With a calm, yet firm, positive attitude, discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher first. It is important to follow the “school chain of command” when seeking solutions. After the teacher, see the principal, pupil services director, superintendent and finally, the school board.
Focus on the Solution to a problem…Remove the blame.
No one likes to be blamed for a problem, yet parents, children and even schools, blame each other when “Johnny isn’t learning or behaving” in the classroom.
State the Problem:
“Miss Jones, Suzy doesn’t understand long division. I know we both want her to do well, let’s discuss how WE can help her to improve.”
Miss Jones will hopefully say something like this, “I agree, Suzy is having trouble in this area. Perhaps another student can work with her, or she can work with me after school.”
Instead of Blame:
“Miss Jones, it’s your fault my daughter doesn’t understand long division.” Miss Jones understandably might reply: “Mrs. Smith, your daughter doesn’t do her classwork or listen as I explain long division. She needs to try harder. If she doesn’t try harder her grades won’t improve. The result of a conversation like this is – no solution! Whether the problem is Suzy’s confusion with division, Johnny’s behavior or Mary’s test grades, remain calm. Focus on a solution that the teacher, your child and you can develop together.
Getting the School to Listen
Your relationship with your child’s teacher and school is very important. Be assertive…not aggressive in your communication. The term “assertive” reflects a positive attitude while “aggressive” tends to reflect anger and antagonism. Communicate assertively when you ask the school’s help with your child, remember to focus on the solution. Engage your team in solution follow-through. When the solution/plan is reached, ask your team (parent, teacher, principal, child) for input on how the plan is working. If the plan isn’t being carried out, assertively refocus your “team” on the agreed plan. Teachers have many children and challenges. The parent as a team member, can encourage and nurture the “solution plan”.
When the Solution Works
Persistence pays off, celebrate the success! It’s easy to complain, few people take the time to appreciate success. Write a letter of appreciation to the school superintendent thanking the teacher, commending him or her for help with your child. Send a copy of the letter to the teacher and school principal. Your letter will be noticed! And, the next time you ask for help “to solve a problem”, the school will listen.
Listen to Your Child
Listen to your child, his or her thoughts, emotions and body language. Your thoughtful attention to your child’s feelings and ideas about school will give you clues to small problems and their solution. As you listen, remember your child’s description of a situation may be inaccurate. Fill in the missing puzzle pieces by communicating positively with your child’s teacher. As an example, my son loved kindergarten and he enthusiastically approached first grade. However, in first grade he began coming home angry, tearing up his papers. I could have said, “Just try harder, things will get better.” Instead, I listened to his feelings. By communicating positively with his teacher, we resolved my son’s frustration. His first grade experience was turned into a positive one. Your child’s input is critical to finding a solution to school problems.
Understand the School
Every school has a personality. Its personality is developed by the school principal and its teachers. Today’s schools are under constant scrutiny by parents, government and the media. “Bad press” can cause schools to change slowly. As a parent, you have a unique outsider’s perspective of the school environment. Use your creativity to help the school think outside the box when solving your child’s problems. Discuss the benefits to the teacher in helping solve the problem.
Identify the Problem
“Miss Jones, I know Ann’s behavior is troublesome.”
Admit You See the Problem, Too
“She is a very active child and even at home she is a handful.”
Suggest Creative Solutions
“Perhaps we can work together to help Ann and also make your job easier. Hyperactive children need to move around more often. I’ve been trying to think of some creative ways to help Ann be more settled in your classroom. What do you think of these ideas.”
Given the example above, here are some ideas that could be produced by brainstorming together:
*Give Ann a second desk so she can move between them in a controlled way.
- A short stair-step in the back of the classroom for children (especially Ann) to release excess energy.
- Find special tasks like collecting papers, that allow her to move around more.
Now you’ve taken the steps to have an ongoing open dialogue with your child’s teacher. Whether or not the teacher accepts your solution, you’ve already begun working on the problem together. This parent-teacher relationship can prove to be invaluable even after the school year is over. Don’t hesitate to consult with the teacher even if they haven’t had your child in a couple of years. The teacher will be familiar with your child, his or her learning style and classroom behavior. This information can serve as a solid reference point in your child’s academic pursuits.