The first step is to be a “partner in learning” at your child’s school. Here are some simple, basic ideas that we all know but often forget to do:
- Attend all open house events. Meet and greet. Know and be known.
- Join the PTA. You don’t have to be an officer, but you need to meet other parents, support the school, and stay in the loop.
- Learn the names of everyone at school who works with your child, and make sure they know your name.
- Go to all parent/teacher conferences on time and prepared with questions, concerns, and positive comments.
- Attend school programs, especially if your child is participating. Support all the children in your community.
- Eat lunch at school with your elementary school-age child as often as you can. Kids love this, and most teachers appreciate it.
- Provide all the supplies, materials, and information the teacher needs to keep your child safe and comfortable at school. This can include medications, school supplies, a change of clothes, and contact information. Keep everything stocked and updated.
- Send a positive note to school at least two or three times a year, with a compliment or a thank you. You might thank the teacher, and you might thank the bus driver, the coach, or a lunch lady. It takes a village…..
- Volunteer however you can. No matter what your circumstances are, there is a volunteer opportunity for you – even if just once a year for field day or the school festival. Volunteering is a comfortable, natural way to meet teachers and find out what’s going on with your child in school.
The second step is to focus on positive solutions to problems at school. Remember – you are trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. You are trying to show your child how to effectively problem-solve and get results. Here are some big ideas about solving problems in school:
- Listening is a sign of respect. You need to listen to teachers and administrators and they need to listen to you. Both viewpoints help your child be successful, so be open-minded – it’s a two-way street.
- Arguing, excusing, and blaming don’t help your child at all in the long run. There is no place for anger or rudeness on either side. In fact, there shouldn’t be any sides – everyone should be looking out for the child.
- Act like everyone at the school wants the best for your child and it’s more likely to happen. Most people try to live up to expectations (it’s embarrassing not to), and if you expect the best you just may get it. Just remember that your idea of “best” and the school folks’ idea of “best” may not be the same. If so, it’s time for everyone to listen to and respect the other viewpoint.
- The teacher isn’t the only person at school who you can call to ask questions and get some help. Guidance counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and school nurses are there to support students and their families.
- Follow the chain of command if you have questions or concerns, especially if nobody at school will pay attention to you or treat your input with respect. Teachers are in charge of their classroom, principals are in charge of their school, 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 usually an elected body, 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), but you can go as far up the chain of command as necessary to find solutions for your child.
The third step is to learn how to set-up effective, businesslike school conferences that focus on actions and results rather than anger and frustration. No one likes to be caught off-guard – that just gets everyone off on the wrong foot. Here are the basic guidelines:
- The day and time for the appointment are set up ahead of time. Confirm with a note if there’s enough time.
- Everyone should know in advance why you’re meeting and who will be there.
- Bring a family member or friend to the conference with you. It helps to have support, and parents are usually out-numbered at school meetings.
- Write down questions and concerns before the meeting. Bring all the written information you have that relates to the problem (notes from teachers, work samples, test reports, medical documents, report cards, discipline reports). It can be very useful to make a timeline of how you have attempted to deal with the problem. Take notes during the meeting. It helps you remember, and it shows that you know what you’re doing. Be organized and professional.
- Focus on positive solutions. You’re not meeting together to get mad, blame others, or make excuses. You’re meeting to figure out a plan to help your child. Be sure that the plan is written down.
- 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. Write this down too.
- Do your part, and expect the school staff to do theirs. If there is a problem, call another meeting. You can also go to the next level in the school hierarchy or find an advocate.
**This article is excerpted from The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School, available on Amazon.
Copyright Alice Wellborn 2014. All rights reserved.