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 child 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. The later elementary years are the ideal time to work at home with your child to reinforce reading and math. This is also a time when social skills play a bigger role in your child’s school life. With adolescence looming, it’s important to stay connected to school and teachers to make sure your child is staying on track.
Meet and greet
There’s some advantage to meeting the teacher before the mid-autumn parent-teacher conference. Before the school year really gets rolling, you can help your child’s teacher get to know your child in advance. (If you don’t know how to get in touch with the teacher, check in with the school’s office for an email address or phone number.) Share with the teacher your child’s passions (“She loves animals.”), problems (“He like puzzles, but freaks out if he can’t finish one.”), and any other issues that may prove challenging at school (“He is 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 about her friends, her favorite subjects, what she finds interesting and what bores her. The more information you come to the meeting with, 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 as 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, 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.
Lend a hand
Many teachers welcome and need extra hands in the classroom. Plus, even a few visits a year will give you a better sense of the teacher, the work the kids are doing, and how your child fits in with the class. Even 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 artist who can help with a holiday project — offer to come in and share your expertise with the class. (Click here for more ideas on volunteering in the classroom.)
Stay in touch
To keep communication between you and the teacher open, keep in touch with the teacher throughout the year. Remember: to better help your child, most teachers want parental input. If you’re not able to get into the classroom, set up a regular schedule to check in with the teacher. 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, workshops, and other news. It is also a way to meet other parents and share resources.
Be part of the solution
If your child is having specific problems at school — from conflicts with other kids to homework struggles — don’t let the problem fester. Arrange a meeting 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 with you on a solution.
Get involved school wide
Parents who get involved in parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) become true collaborators with your child’s teacher and school administration. Attend PTO meetings (most meet monthly, usually in the evenings) and participate as much as you’re able. PTOs do everything from raising funds for much-needed school equipment to helping create 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 a part of improving your child’s 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. 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.