Parent-teacher Connections

By Sharon Naylor

June 2, 2014 6 min read

A new school year means time to connect with your child's new teachers. Every teacher who will guide your kid through their educational achievement and extracurricular activities wants to hear from you and work together to make your child soar. You're a team for your kid's learning, so start that relationship off on the right foot.

ML Nichols, the author of "The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child's Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections," says, "Teachers know which families support their children's learning -- and which do not. That's because it shows up in the classroom every day through students' work and the stories they tell. Just as your kids talk about school at home, children come to school innocently sharing stories about what mom or dad said about school, homework and teachers. And research shows, not surprisingly, that teachers have higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their child's education in productive ways."

Here are ways to connect with your kids' teachers right from the start of the school year:

--Say hello. On the first day of school, step into the classroom to shake the teacher's hand and "let them know that you look forward to working with them as a partner in educating your child," say the experts at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Exchange email addresses with your child's teacher, and the NCLD advises checking in at least monthly, even if your child is doing well in school.

--Provide teachers with valuable information about your child. Explain your child's favorite interests and any learning techniques that seem especially helpful for your child. The NCLD advises sharing positive anecdotes about your child that may affect how they interact with others. Teachers also need to know about any challenges your child has, so that time is not lost due to trial and error.

--Stay informed. "Read the class newsletter or website so you can reinforce at home what your kids are learning at school," says Nichols. And when that newsletter or update comes from the teacher, respond with a quick, 'Thank you!' as a kindness the teacher will appreciate. Keep emailed responses brief, so as not to infringe on the busy schedules.

--Communicate effectively. "Everything you write or say to your child's teacher either strengthens or weakens the bridge you're building," says Nichols, who shares her Power of P3 to keep messages focused: "Start out on a Positive note whether you're communicating via note, email, phone or in person. Be Professional (polite and respectful in your observations and feelings) and Persistent when needed." Nichols advises discussing difficult issues on the phone or in parent-teacher conferences, not via email.

Be respectful. Address the teacher by his or her official title, such as "Miss Smith" or "Dr. Smith," not by first name until invited to do so. "And never go over the teacher's head without letting him or her know you plan to do so," says Nichols. Unnecessarily discussing a teacher with a higher-up can be detrimental to your relationship, and long-lasting resentment can build, poisoning your efforts to help your child. "When blame and accusations seep into your communication, teachers will defend their actions rather than respond to your concerns," says Nichols.

--Say thank you. With endless testing, new teacher evaluations, crowded classrooms and higher standards, teachers are under tremendous pressure. Add in troublemaker parents and kids, and teachers are even more strained. So when you acknowledge their efforts with a thank-you note, the gesture leads to a deeper connection.

--Volunteer. Teachers appreciate getting a bit of extra help in the classroom or on class trips, so be enthusiastic about helping out.

--Try not to brag. Parents can be competitive, intentionally or unintentionally. Resist the urge to tell the teacher about your child's every accomplishment in prior schooling years or over the summer. Teachers will discover your child's strengths naturally as the school year progresses, and perhaps you'll receive messages of praise about your child from the teacher.

--Let school administrators know how much you appreciate your child's teacher. The NCLD says, "Stop by the office and speak to the principal or vice principal in person, or send a letter to the superintendent, with a copy to the teacher." Done once and genuinely, you'll strengthen the connection with your child's teacher, and the praise he or she gets will be reflected in classroom energy.

--As the school year progresses, ask the teacher whether there is anything you can do to be of help to your child, to the classroom, or to him or her. Especially months into the school year, teachers appreciate offers of assistance, and they love knowing that their student has a supportive family who cares about education.

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