Faculty, family both needed for students to excel
By Diane Schlindwein
Copley News Service
Back-to-school time means more than paying book fees, purchasing school supplies and shopping for new clothes. It's time for parents to gear up for a good relationship with the teachers who'll be spending the next nine months with their children. That's why, right from the start, positive communication is essential for a successful school year.
It doesn't matter if a child is in kindergarten or his senior year in high school; teachers like to know that parents are interested in their student's education. That's why it's important for parents to attend back-to-school nights at their child's school. Some schools also have daytime sessions before school starts. Quincy Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Ill., is one of those places. QND offers a special seminar for parents of incoming freshmen. That's when principal Ray Heilmann provides an overview of what to expect and holds a lengthy question and answer session.
"While this is not mandatory, we often have over 90 percent of our parents attend," says Tracy Orne, development director. "This session is in addition to our fall 'Meet the Teachers' night for parents. While it is not mandatory, either, we have the majority of our parents attend." After the first semester parent/teacher conferences take place when parents pick up students' report cards and have the opportunity to speak with teachers again.
"Quincy Notre Dame works with parents to determine the best way to communicate about progress of their son's or daughter's education," says Orne. "Teachers are very open to e-mail, phone and face-to-face communication. It is not unusual for teachers to contact parents to inform them of a special milestone or improvement in a class as well as those times when a student may need extra help."
Orne says coaches and moderators communicate with parents in the same manner. "I know from personal experience that my husband (Eric Orne, who coaches two sports and is the assistant athletic director at QND) communicates via text messaging," she says. "The players and the parents have his personal cell and home phone numbers.
"This is not unusual," says Orne, who acts as pitching coach of the same girls' softball team as her husband coaches. "Many teachers, coaches and administrators encourage contact with parents and teachers after the school day. Parents and students are respectful of our time."
At Rochester High School in Rochester, Ill., parents get a password at registration that allows them online access to classes. Teachers post assignments and handouts so parents can keep up-to-date with daily work. "That way if a student misses a day and needs an assignment, it is right there," says Sandy Hendricks, freshman and sophomore counselor.
"The password also allows parents to keep track of grades, so maybe a parent can catch academic problems earlier," Hendricks says. "Of course we accept e-mails and we always answer phone calls."
At Chatham Elementary in Chatham, first-grade teacher Stephanie Dietz encourages parents to send hand-written notes when they need to share immediate information. Parents can let her know when a child is feeling sad or a little under the weather, or has something special to be excited about.
At the beginning of the school year Dietz supplies each student with a three-ring "Star" binder with a clear plastic case inside labeled "Notes from Home" and an inside flap labeled "Notes from School." The folder also includes a page for reward stickers, a homework folder and another flap for completed schoolwork. Students use the binder every day. Other tips for successful communication include joining the parent/teacher organizations, participating in school events and volunteering to help out at class parties and on field trips. Parents of a younger student might make a point to occasionally drop off or pick up their child in the classroom. It only takes a few minutes to have a short, pleasant chat with the teacher.
Remember that parents and teachers have the same goal in mind: a well-rounded, well-educated, productive and happy student. So, in the end, what really matters is keeping the lines of communication open - whether it is by communicating in person, by e-mail or in a good old-fashioned note to the teacher.
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