It’s back-to-school time – time to work on establishing a smooth, comfortable partnership with teachers and other school staff. Strong home/school communication is probably the most important element in a successful partnership with your child’s school. Many of the frustrations and almost all of the misunderstandings between parents and school staff are due to communication failures. Be positive, be proactive, be a partner, and be patient!
The larger framework for successful home/school communication includes these ideas:
-Listening is a powerful sign of respect. Parents need to listen to school staff, and they need to listen to you. Both viewpoints help your child be successful, so everybody has to be open-minded — it’s a two-way street.
-Parents who are a positive voice in the school have a greater impact when they express a concern. Compliment school staff, send thank you notes, and send positive letters at the end of every year. Be specific about what you and your child have appreciated.
-Parents who are involved in the school community and can call people by name have more opportunities for good communication. Volunteering is an especially comfortable, natural way to meet teachers and know what’s going on in the school.
-If you communicate with the assumption that everyone at the school wants the best for your child, it’s more likely to be true. Most people try to live up to expectations, and if you expect the best you just may get it. Remember that your idea of “best” and the school’s idea of “best” may not be the same. If so, it’s time for everyone to listen and respect the other viewpoint.
-The teacher isn’t the only person at school who can answer questions and provide assistance. Guidance counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and school nurses are there to support students and their families. All you have to do is call the school office! Many of these student support folks are itinerant — they go to several different schools — so you may need to leave a message.
-Follow the chain of command if you have questions or concerns. Teachers are in charge of their classroom, principals are in charge of their school, central office personnel are in charge of departments (e.g. special education, transportation), the superintendent of schools is in charge of the whole school system, and the school board is responsible for everyone and everything. The school board is elected, and they answer to you as a citizen of your community. Start at the classroom level and work your way up. It’s always best to start with the person most involved with the problem — usually the teacher.
Let’s look at some specifics now, because details can make or break your channels of communication.
-It’s hard to get in touch with teachers during the day, because they’re busy in the classroom and can’t be interrupted with phone calls and visits. Find out what time of day and method of communication your child’s teacher prefers.
-Right before school and right after school are usually very busy times for teachers, and it’s can be hard for them to talk with parents. If you need to talk at length, make an appointment for a conference.
-Ask the teacher whether she prefers phone calls, notes, or e-mails, and use that method of communication. Some teachers like to have a spiral notebook for jotting notes that goes back and forth between home and school.
-Find out the best time to call the teacher, just in case you ever have to call. The school secretary can always take a message if you have an emergency or other urgent business. Make sure the teacher has your latest phone numbers at home and at work, in case there is an emergency at school.
-If you are going to be in an official parent/teacher conference, make sure it’s set up in a businesslike way. No one likes to be surprised, and surprises make people defensive. Defensive people can’t listen well and aren’t in a cooperative mood!
-Set up the day and time for the appointment ahead of time. Confirm with a note or an email.
-Arrange to have a friend or family member attend the conference with you if you are upset or angry.
-Everyone should know in advance the purpose of the meeting and who will be there.
-Write down questions and concerns before the meeting, so you can stay on track and express your views. Check them off as they are discussed.
-Seat yourself at the head of the table if possible. Place your file of written documentation on the table. This places you on an equal footing with the school staff, who will probably outnumber you.
-Begin and end the meeting with a positive comment!
-Take notes during the meeting. It helps you remember, it looks like you know what you’re doing, and it helps you control the meeting.
-Ask for a written copy of any school policies or procedures that apply to the situation.
-Focus on positive solutions. You’re not meeting together to get mad and make excuses, you’re meeting to figure out a positive plan to help your child.
-Make a plan to follow-up on the ideas and decisions — know who is going to do what, what the time frame is, and when the group will get back together to check on progress.
-Schedule the follow-up conference.
-Write down the decisions that were made, and the decisions that are still pending.
-Send a positive email or letter to the teacher and the administrator, reviewing the discussion, restating the plan, listing the decisions, and confirming the date of the follow-up conference. Thank them for their time and efforts on behalf of your child.
So what can you do to jumpstart a strong partnership and effective home-school communication? The most powerful thing you can do is to become a reliable, positive, strong member of the school community. This means that you can call everyone at school by name, you’re a member of the PTA, you volunteer whenever and however you can, you attend school conferences and school events, you are actively involved in your child’s academic progress, and you communicate regularly with the teacher — in person or in writing. Your child will thank you for it!
Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at FlyLady.net and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind. Get the book at:http://www.nomoreparentsleftbehind.com/
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