How to Crack the School System: A Bakers Dozen

1. Attend all school programs and events, and introduce yourself to all the teachers and administrators.
2. Join the PTA, even if it’s an exclusive group. Attend meetings whenever possible. Introduce yourself to the other parents. Participate in projects and events.
3. Learn the names of all the adults who interact with your children at school (principal, teachers, teacher assistants, librarian, school nurse, secretary, custodian, bus driver, guidance counselor, etc.) Write down the names, along with their contact information. Use those names to meet and greet, every time you’re at school. Make positive comments whenever possible. Keep notes all year long about the things you and your child appreciate.

Assignment: Who is teaching my children?

– Start a list of all the teachers your child has this year (including art, music, P.E., reading) and leave space to make notes as the year goes on.
– Add the names of adults who work in the school building but who probably don’t have day-to-day contact with your child (principal, assistant principal, guidance counselor, school social worker, school nurse, school psychologist, school resource officer, school secretary).
– Write down the contact information for everyone on the list — phone and email.
– Challenge yourself to meet everyone on the list.

4. Communicate regularly with teachers. Be knowledgeable about your child’s progress. Follow up on teacher concerns (e.g. going to the eye doctor).
5. Go to parent/teacher conferences, on time and prepared. Ask good questions. Give good information about your child. Listen carefully to the teacher’s information. Keep written records.

Assignment: Checklist for School Conferences

– Make a master checklist to use every time you have a parent/teacher conference. Make additions or corrections to the list below, based on the procedures at your child’s school.
– Schedule the conference ahead of time and send an email to confirm the date, time, and place. Also confirm who will be at the conference.
– Arrange for a conference buddy (family member or friend) to go with you.
– Make sure that everyone knows the purpose of the conference and who will be attending — no surprises!
– Bring a written list of questions and concerns.
– Have your emotions in check.
– Begin the conference with a positive comment.
– Take notes.
– Ask for a written copy of all school policies or procedures that relate to your concern.
– Focus on positive solutions.
– Write down who has agreed to do what in what time frame.
– Make another appointment to follow up on plans and decisions.
– Do not make decisions if you are confused or upset.
– End the conference with a positive comment.
– Send an email to everyone at the conference, summarizing your understanding of the plan of action and decisions made.

6. Eat lunch at school with your child (elementary level). Go to your child’s games, concerts, and ceremonies (elementary, middle and high). See and be seen!
7. Provide all the supplies, materials, and information the teacher needs to keep your child comfortable and safe. Keep your contact information updated.
8. Volunteer — somehow, someway. Be part of the team!

Assignment: I’m going to be a volunteer!

Check over this list of possibilities, pick one, and get started now.
– Help with class parties and events two or three times a year.
– Help chaperone the class on a field trip.
– Help set-up, supervise, or clean up after Field Day.
– Mentor a student who is interested in your career.
– Work as an officer in the PTA.
– Organize fund-raisers for the band, a new playground, etc.
– Join the school improvement team.
– Work concessions for the ball team.
– Help supervise the fund-raiser — car wash, donut sales, whatever.
– Work at home on projects for the teacher (for example, putting the Christmas books together, making the class list for Valentine’s Day cards, reading the social studies chapter on tape for a child with special needs).

9. Send a positive note to school a few times a year, thanking someone on the staff for something you and your child genuinely appreciated. Those who have a positive voice in a school will get an effective response when they have a concern.

Assignment: Thank You Note

Write a note today to someone at your child’s school. It doesn’t have to go to a classroom teacher. You can thank anyone from the principal or the media specialist to the lunch room ladies or the bus driver. It doesn’t have to be long — just a couple sentences of appreciation. Hand it to the school secretary, and she will get it to them.

10. Express concerns in a calm, business-like, rational way. Start at the level closest to the concern (usually the classroom), and move up the chain of command from there. Focus on positive solutions to the problem. Do your homework.

Assignment: Positive Solutions

Let’s think about some positive, realistic solutions to a problem you’re having with your child’s school. Sometimes these solutions require the teacher or the principal to do something different. Sometimes they require you to do something different! And sometimes your child has to learn a new skill or be held responsible for a behavior.
– Write down the problem — be very specific, and keep it small.
– Under the problem, write down three or four things that could be done to address the problem — positive, realistic things. Baby steps!
– Ask for a parent/teacher conference to address your ideas.
– Pick one idea — one step toward a solution — and get started on it this week.

11. Write a letter to the principal at the end of every year, summarizing the good things that happened and the concerns that came up during the year.

Assignment: Positive Feedback

Review the list of all the teachers your child has this year and the notes you have jotted down. At the end of the school year, send a letter to the principal that 1) lists all the good things that happened for your child that year and 2) compliments teachers by name. These sorts of letters go in personnel files, so they have a big impact. You can also include any concerns you have had during the year. Repeat these steps every year for every child. Positive feedback is very powerful in schools, and it also makes it much more likely that you will be listened to when you have to say something negative.

12. Expect the teachers to teach, the administrators to lead, and the students to learn. Do everything you can to support them in meeting your expectations. Be a problem-solver, not a complainer or a blamer. Expect the same from the others — including your children.
13. Remember that public schools are part of the community, and to a large extent reflect the values and expectations of that community. School boards set the priorities and policies, and school board members are elected. School staff works for the school board, and the school board works for you! Everything that happens in a school is paid for by the taxpayers. You have a voice — use it for the good of all the children in your community.


Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at 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:

**** For the month of December Alice has placed her book at a very special value, now is the time to get a copy of your very own! *******

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