When a parent establishes a strong connection with a teacher early on, children quickly realize that both parent and teacher are on the same nurturing team: their team. I have the pleasure of working with middle school children on a daily basis and see their joy and delight when their parents are involved in their schooling. The fact of the matter is, when parents and teachers are united, they’ve created one of the most powerful partnerships a child could ever ask for.
In order for parents and teachers to be “tuned in to the same station” and successfully make this connection happen, they must being willing to focus on the best interests of the child and let go of judgments and the impulse to jump to conclusions. The most successful proactive approach for benefiting a child is getting to know the child. When both parents and teachers commit to this philosophy, a child feels cared for, loved, and better understood, which results in better behavior and school success.
When should I reach out to my child’s teacher?
Parents may be hesitant to meet a teacher, perhaps anticipating bad news or worried that their parenting will be questioned. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is waiting until a problem arises with their child’s academic performance or behavior at school to initiate contact with a teacher. At that point, the child is oftentimes deeper into a problem than the parent realizes, and it’s harder to start a good parent-teacher relationship when the waters are already troubled.
While being in touch with the teacher when an issue is brought to your attention certainly is imperative, my advice is to be proactive. Don’t wait until a problem comes up to begin a relationship with your child’s teacher. The easiest way to start is by striking up a conversation with your child’s teacher at Parent-Teacher events, like an Open House. Whether it’s 20 minutes or two hours, setting aside time to meet your child’s teachers will be the best investment you make for your child this school year. Besides getting to hear what teachers have to say about your son or daughter, you’re laying the foundation for your parent-teacher relationship. You are also indirectly communicating positive messages to your child: that you care, are aware of what’s going on at school, and that you’re not too busy for them. And kids tend to like it; they feel they can talk more openly to you about their teachers when you actually know who they are.
What should I ask my child’s teacher?
While speaking with a teacher, it is important to make the most of the time, no matter how much or how little it is. Parents sometimes discover interesting information about their child’s behavior and overall performance at school versus what they see happening at home.
I advise, first and foremost, before inquiring about how your child is learning, ask the all-important question, “How is my child doing socially?” “Is he being teased or teasing other children?” “Does she appear happy, withdrawn, outgoing?” While grades are important, they are not the only indicator of whether matters are okay at school.
We’ve seen the increasing amount of school violence over the past 15 years, and have come to understand that preventative factors include helping children feel accepted, valued and respected. One of the biggest reasons for low academic achievement and unhappiness at school is not feeling accepted socially or flat-out being bullied. Knowing if your child is feeling happy, is not in constant fear, and is doing okay socially is extremely important. If this is not the case, these matters must be addressed. Learning appropriate social skills helps develop a child’s self-confidence and forms who they will become as they get older and enter the workforce.
Once you’ve established how your child feels at school, and provided there is time to ask the teacher another question, I would recommend asking: “What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses? How can I be of help to my child at home?” A parent will gather a ton of useful information from asking this. You’ll find out not only what your child excels at, but also be tipped off to what he or she may be motivated to do in life and have a desire to pursue one day as a career. On the flip side, by recognizing a child’s weaknesses, parents can offer support at home to strengthen these areas.
How often should I be contacting my child’s teachers?
Once initial connection with the teacher has been made, be sure to learn the class policies, expectations and curriculum and get a good handle on your child’s school profile. This, then, opens the door for back-and-forth conversations on an as-needed basis throughout the school year. I recommend that parents ask teachers which method of communication they prefer, email or telephone. Let the teachers know that you want to be kept informed about what is happening at school and if they see any sudden changes or incidents take place. Ultimately, establishing an open, regular means of parent-teacher communication—with the best interests of the child forefront in everyone’s mind—will only benefit your child in the long run.
About Dr. Doug Haddad
Douglas Haddad, M.S., C.N., Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Doug”) is a public school teacher in Connecticut and has worked with children in a variety of capacities as a coach, mentor, tutor, nutritionist, and inspirational speaker. He is the author of the child guidance book Save Your Kids…Now! and co-author of a health and wellness book Top Ten Tips For Tip Top Shape. He regularly speaks, writes, and blogs about self-empowering topics for parents and children including his Success Strategies for Regaining Control over Your Life...NOW! and his Happiness Formula for Achieving Anything. Visit his website at www.doughaddad.com.