What goes into creating a successful school environment? Of course, the building, books, and school supplies are necessary, but one of, if not the most important resource a school has are teachers and staff. Every year, we get approximately 6,000 waking hours. Children in America, on average, spend about 1,000 of those in school with 6+ hours of school every weekday. The teachers and staff at your child’s school are spending approximately 25% of your child’s waking hours with them throughout the school year. Educators play an important role in your child’s life, from education to overall development. Parents need to facilitate a positive, respectful partnership with teachers and school staff. If your child struggles with attention issues, it’s even more imperative that everyone works together!
When you were in school, parent-teacher conferences may have been nerve-wracking, and getting sent to the principal's office was usually bad news. Now that you’re a parent, meeting with your child’s teachers shouldn’t be something you fear. Conversations about your child’s health, education, discipline, and abilities can be stressful, sometimes heated, but they are always necessary. Having an open, active dialogue with your son or daughter’s teachers is one of the most important things you can do for your child. This helps ensure they receive the support, accommodations, and supervision needed for success. Here are some tips to help you communicate with your child’s teacher in a positive, purposeful way:
1. Set up an appointment. A quick check-in is great during drop off or pick up times, but making an appointment is more appropriate when a meaningful discussion needs to happen. You’ll avoid the hustle and bustle (and interruptions) that can happen during those busy times, and everyone can be fully focused on the conversation at hand. Whenever possible, let the teacher know what you’d like to discuss ahead of time so you can both come to the meeting prepped and ready to go.
2. Come prepared. For your first sit-down with your child’s teacher, be sure to outline your child’s condition, including where they shine and where they may struggle. Ask the teacher about their background with your child’s condition and help fill in any details they may need. This can help the teacher understand both the big picture and your child’s specific struggles. In subsequent meetings, bring any paperwork, observations, and questions. Stay on topic as much as possible, take notes, and stay solution-oriented.
3. Let the teacher know what to expect. Once you’ve talked about your child’s specific condition, help teachers and staff understand what that could look like in the classroom. What behaviors can they expect to see? What coping techniques do you use at home? Giving specific examples of what to expect will help staff prepare and react more effectively. Share some insight on the strategies that have (or haven’t) helped your child! Stay open to suggestions and new techniques, but provide enough background information to help the staff understand your child more completely.
4. Talk through current accommodations, goals, and expectations. Bring a copy of your child’s IEP or 504 plan to discuss, and share how that support has helped your child. Ask to hear more about the support services the teacher and staff think make sense for your child, as well as school and classroom expectations. Together, set some reasonable goals for your child that can easily be measured, then set up a follow-up meeting to check in on the progress.
5. Be proactive. Don’t wait for issues to arise before you start building a relationship with your child’s teacher. Start things off on a positive foot and get acquainted before any problems occur. This will also demonstrate your desire to be a true partner, not just a parent reacting to a problem.
6. Try to stay positive. Your child’s teacher is facing countless challenges and behaviors every day from their students. Keep that in mind as you begin each conversation. Try to remain empathetic and in control of your emotions throughout your conversations. Keep any defensiveness in check and stay focused on the end goal of maintaining a productive partnership. Remember, you’re both working to support your child.
7. Ask questions. Try to understand the teacher’s perspective, and let him or her know you’re ready to listen and learn, just as you expect them to listen and learn from you. Reflect on the answers they provide and use them to build rapport and a shared understanding.
8. Stay open to feedback. Your child’s teacher is a professional and can offer a fresh perspective and an additional view. Teachers have a wealth of knowledge, through both schooling and experience with other students. That allows them to provide new ideas or strategy recommendations to support you. You know your child best, but working with his or her teacher can give you a better understanding of your child and provide a consistent, united approach to their education.
9. Let them know you’re a partner. Ask your child’s teachers what you can do, how you can support their work in the classroom, etc. Talk through the best way to get in touch with you, what kind of updates you appreciate, establish a system of ongoing communication, and how you envision connecting what’s happening at school with what’s happening at home.
10. Ask for help. If your child is struggling with a certain subject matter, ask the teacher to show you what they’re working on in class and make suggestions for how you can help at home. Let them know your child is struggling, and that you don’t want to cause confusion, so you want to be on the same page with what’s happening in the classroom.
When your child leaves for school, they take with them all of their positive qualities, as well as their struggles. The closer you can work with the teachers to plan and prepare for your child’s progress, the better! Keeping an open, honest dialogue with your child’s educational team will benefit everyone in the long-run.