If teaching was show business, then your child’s teacher would get star billing. But don’t forget about the other major player whose role in your child’s education can help make it a smash success: Yes, you, the parent.
When parents and educators co-star in children’s big show — a.k.a. school — everybody benefits: The teachers who can count on the support of active and involved parents, the parents who stays connected to their kids and school, and most important, the children whose parents and teachers are working in tandem.
Educational research bears out the fact that academic achievement, attitude, and attendance improve measurably when parents are involved in their children’s schooling.
These early elementary years are when your child is going to really start reading, so it’s important to stay in touch with the teacher to make sure things are on track. Here are ways to keep in touch with the teacher and be an active partner in your child’s education.
Meet and greet
There’s some advantage to meeting the teacher before the mid-fall parent-teacher conference. Before the school year really gets rolling, you can help your child’s teacher get to know your child in advance. Share with the teacher your child’s passions (“He loves animals.”), problems (“She like puzzles, but freaks out if he can’t finish one.”), and any other issues that may prove challenging at school (“He’s shy about asking to use the bathroom.”).
If you can wait for October or November, when most first semester conferences take place, before your meeting check the work your child is bringing home from school and talk with your child to see if she has any issues to address with the teacher. To learn about your child’s school day, ask her details about school: her friends, favorite subjects, what she finds interesting and what bores her. The more information you you have about your child’s school life, the more fruitful your teacher meeting will be. (Click here and here for more tips on preparing for a parent-teacher conference.)
Make the open house
Most schools host an open house in the early fall. Even if your child has been at the school for a couple of years, take advantage of this orientation to get a sense of what is in store for your child the school year. The open house is an ideal opportunity to meet the teacher, see the classroom, meet other parents, and find out what your child is working on. Keep in mind: Open houses are not the time to talk in-depth about your child — save those questions for a parent-teacher conference.
Most teachers welcome regular check-ins with parents. If you’re not able to get into the classroom, ask the teacher if she prefers keeping in touch via email address or phone. Also, to keep up-to-date with classroom and school events and news, check to see if your school has an email list for parents.
Be part of the solution
If your child is having problems at school — from conflicts with other kids to homework struggles — don’t let the problem fester. Meet with the teacher and offer ideas for solutions. If you’re unsure what to do, ask the teacher for ideas on how you can both resolve the situation. That approach helps the teacher feel less defensive and reinforces the idea that you are a team. Try to be as specific as possible in your concerns (“My child says the words out loud when reading.” “My daughter is flipping letters.”). Even if the teacher doesn’t have an answer right away, she can be on the look-out for problems and help work on a solution.
Lend a hand
Volunteer to help out in the classroom — not only does it help the teacher and school, but participating first-hand helps you and the teacher form a stronger alliance. Even a few visits a year will give you get to know your child’s teaching style, the kind of work the kids are doing, and how your child fits in with the class. If you can’t help in class, make it a point to attend special events like the science fair, school concert, or school picture days. Your presence sends a message to your child that school is important.
You can also offer your support by asking the teacher if there are any tasks that you can do from home such as typing the newsletter or calling classroom parents to remind them of an upcoming event. If you have a special skill — you’re a computer whiz who can set up the students new laptops or an seamstress who can help with costumes for the school play — offer to come in and share your expertise with the class. (Click here for more ideas on volunteering in the classroom.)
Get involved school wide
Attend your school’s parent-teacher organization meetings, and participate as much as you’re able. Most PTOs meet monthly and offer childcare during the meetings to help working parents. To get involved at a different level, ask the school principal if the school has an advisory group that works with the principal to establish school policies. By joining a school board or advisory group, you’ll get a deeper understanding of how the school works and be able to affect positive change — for the school, your child’s classroom, and your child’s teacher.
Make home work
There may be no better way to partner with your child’s teacher than to maintain a supportive academic environment at home. Check in with the teacher a few times during the school year to ask what you can do at home to reinforce the work your child is doing in school. Working with your child at home helps him understand that home and school are connected. It also may give you an insight into how your child learns, which might help when you later have parent-teacher conferences. (For more ideas on supporting your child’s home work, click here.)
Ask the magic question
Finally, one single question can work magic to strengthen the parent-teacher bond. Asking your child’s teacher, “How can I help?” opens the lines of communication between a parent and teacher and makes the teacher feel they have an ally working to help your child succeed. In response, the teacher may provide you with specific ways that you, as a parent, can do to support your child’s education at home and come to school ready to learn.