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.
Staying in touch with your child’s teachers gets harder once your kids leave elementary school. Suddenly it’s not just one teacher to deal with, but a cast of thousands (at least it feels that way). Not to mention that your child’s probably not thrilled at the idea of you prowling the halls of her school. At the same time, now’s one of the more important times to stay in touch with your child’s school. These can be turbulent years for kids, and a parent’s support is crucial. Here’s how to stay in touch with the teacher – and be an active partner in your child’s education.
Get to school
Even if you think you know the ropes by now, go to the school’s back-to-school nights. You’ll get a chance to meet each teacher and get a sense of what the year’s workload will be. Offer to help in the office or the cafeteria or to chaperone field trips and other outside events. Your help sends the message to teachers and your child that you value the school and the work they do. It also gives you an inside look at how the school runs and lets you get to know the staff.
Ask each teacher how she prefers to communicate. Get her phone and email – and don’t be shy about using them when needed. Also, find out if the teacher posts homework or other assignments on the web. If she does, check often to make sure your child is on track. Finally, most schools have email lists for parents. Call the office to see if your school has one and how to join. Parent email lists are a valuable way for parents to learn about school events and workshops. It is also a way to meet other parents and share resources.
Do what you can
While middle and high school teachers ask for less in-classroom help than in elementary school, let them know how and when you are available to help with special projects or outings. If you are unable to volunteer in the school, ask teachers or PTO representations on how you can help at home: Call other parents to tell them about school-related activities, edit the school newsletter, or make educational materials for teachers. If you are bilingual, help translate school materials or interpret for non-English speaking parents in your school. The support you offer strengthens your connection to the school and your child’s teachers.
Get involved schoolwide
Attend your school’s parent-teacher organization meetings (most PTOs meet monthly, usually in the evenings) and participate as much as you’re able. As an involved PTO member, you’ll have an even greater advantage to form a stronger alliance with the school teachers. PTOs at this level do everything from organizing high school and college fairs to fund-raising for after-school enrichment programs. To get involved at a different level, many schools have advisory groups that work with the principal to help establish school policies. By joining, you’ll get a much deeper understanding of how the school works and be part of improving the school and classroom.
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. Set up a quiet study space for your child and establish homework rules. Sit with him during homework time if it helps him focus.
Supporting your child in his schoolwork shows him that you care how he does and reinforces that his education doesn’t just happen in the classroom. This also gives you an inside look at where your child may be struggling. With hundreds of kids to teach, the teacher may miss these cues, so your input can be crucial. (For more tips on how to support your child with homework, 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.