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 a child’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 child 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 first years of school are the ideal time to start developing connections with the teachers, the school staff, and even other parents. Here are ways to keep in touch with the teacher and be an active partner in your child’s education.
Meet the teacher
To get the school year off to a good start – and help the teacher get to know your child and your family – set up a meeting with your child’s teacher early in the year, even, if possible, before your child starts. Many teachers in the classroom in the days before school starts. Also, it’s often a more relaxed time for them. If you haven’t already gotten an email, call, or letter during the summer, contact the school office to find out the best way to get in touch with the teacher. (These days, most teachers find email works best.) When you meet, help the teacher get to know your child’s passions (“She loves animals.”), problems (“He’s great at puzzles, but freaks out if he can’t finish one.”), and any other issues that may prove challenging at school. (“My child has trouble sharing.”)
Ask the teacher how she likes best to communicate – email, phone calls, or even a notebook that goes back and forth between home and school. Many preschool teachers are open to writing notes about your child every once in a while to check in; kindergarten teachers with more students to oversee are less likely to. Parent-teacher conferences – which usually take place once each semester – offer a chance to have a more in-depth conversation about your child. During conferences, ask the teacher to describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and be sure to air any concerns you have. (Click here and here for more tips on preparing for a parent-teacher conference.)
Although some parents are hesitant to share personal information about their child, knowing a child’s fears and challenges, as well as any learning disabilities or health issues such as allergies, helps the teacher better support your child. Be sure to tell the teacher about any changes in the family like a death or divorce, as these could well affect your child’s behavior at school. (Click here for more tips on what to tell a teacher about your child.)
If you pick up or drop off your child at school, take a minute to check-in briefly with the teacher every few weeks. The beginning and end of the school day tend to be harried, so don’t expect a long chat. Instead, simply offer a detail about your child (“My daughter loved the clay project.”), ask a question (“Is he washing his hands now after going to the bathroom?”), or just say hello and ask how things have been going. If you have personal or more in-depth issues to discuss, save these for a check in via email or phone, or the next parent-teacher conference.
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 will give you an insight into how your child learns, which will help you and the teacher best support your child.
Lend a hand
Volunteer to come in and help out in the classroom. Between work and home life, many parents are already overtaxed. But even if you can just spare an hour a few times a year – driving on a field trip, doing a special in-class project, reading a book during story time – you’ll get a much better sense of the teacher, the work the kids are doing, and how your child fits in with the group. Plus, your presence sends an unspoken message to your child that you think school is important and you are a partner in his education.
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.