Every year around this time I post communication tips for talking with your child’s teacher. However, these tips are about more than talking with the teacher. They’re about creating open communication and building an effective parent-teacher relationship that will serve you when things are going well and when your child hits some inevitable bumps along the way. Being married to an educator, I hear how teachers struggle to maintain a great relationship with their students’ parents. I also hear the “horror stories” of parents who don’t respond to phone calls and emails when there’s a problem brewing, but who are the first to show up at school, demanding to speak to an administrator, when their child gets a bad grade or detention.
If you want to establish a great relationship and open communication, here are 9 tips for talking with your child’s teacher that will help you get the school year off to a great start:
1. Open the Lines of Communication EARLY!
Don’t wait until there’s a problem to get to know your child’s teacher. Call or email him or her, saying who you are, who your child is, what support you might be able to provide during the year, and to wish him or her a great school year. Establishing rapport with your child’s teacher early on makes things a lot easier should there be problems or concerns later.
2. Treat teachers with respect.
Your child’s teachers are your partners in your child’s education. Treat teachers as the educated, caring professionals that they are. Use common courtesy when communicating with them—just as you’d expect in return. Another element of respect is going directly to the teacher, not to the principal, or the superintendent, if there’s a problem. Always go directly to the teacher first, before elevating the situation to someone higher up the “chain of command.”
3. Remember that your child is not the teacher’s only responsibility.
Let’s face it. Many of us think our children are Super Special Snowflakes- unique in their intelligence, grace, and potential. The reality is that every parent thinks the same about his or her child. Imagine the pressure on teachers to keep all those Super Special Snowflakes happy as well as their parents. Remember when you’re communicating with your child’s teacher, that he or she probably has 100-150 students and their associated families to tend to. Be patient and understanding if the teacher doesn’t call you back immediately when you have a question about your child’s grade or if there’s a problem with your child and another at school.
4. Take opportunities to praise and show appreciation.
Let’s face it, when things are going well, we rarely take the opportunity to tell people they’re doing a great job. It’s not until something goes wrong that most people take the time to “communicate” with others. Most teachers don’t hear anything from parents unless it’s a complaint, problem, or “suggestion for improvement.” When talking with your child’s teacher, be sure to look for opportunities to provide sincere praise and appreciation for doing his or her job well. Let teachers know that you appreciate it when they give your child special attention, or when your child comes home beaming because he or she was praised for helping another student. If you’re not sure what to say when sending a note or calling with praise, check out my post, “4 Keys to a Meaningful Thank You.”
5. Inquire, don’t accuse.
Children sometimes come home with different perceptions of situations that occurred at school that day than what actually happened. Before taking the story as fact, ASK the teacher about the situation. You might start off saying, “I heard there might have been an issue today between Morgan and Hannah. Can you tell me more about what happened?” Rather than starting with, “Hannah said you punished her for no reason…” If you’re concerned about the level or amount of work your child is doing, don’t say, “You’re giving Kelsey too much homework,” instead, you might say, “I’m concerned about the amount of homework Kelsey is bringing home, is there a reason it seems there’s a lot more lately?”
6. Avoid getting defensive in the face of perceived criticism.
Most parents have a difficult time seeing the “imperfections” in their Super Special Snowflakes. When a teacher offers an observation about your child, remember that the teacher is only offering it because he or she wants your child to succeed. Try to look at your child’s behavior objectively. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask the teacher for specific examples before you respond. If you need to have time to think about what the teacher has shared, set a follow-up appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue further.
7. Show understanding, share your needs, then ask the teacher how you can work together to find a solution.
Teachers have to face a lot of angry and defensive parents. As a result, they can walk into a discussion expecting the worst. Do your part to avoid creating a defensive situation by:
– Showing understanding of the teacher’s challenges
– Sharing your needs (or those of your child)
– Ask how you and the teach can work together to solve the issue
Rather than saying, “My kid is the smartest one in this class. You need to give him more challenging work,” you could say, “I know having 23 seven-year-olds in your class, it’s not possible to cater math lessons to just one child. (Pause) I want to help foster my son’s love of math and his abilities. What can we do together to provide him with more challenging math problems?”
8. Teach your child to advocate for himself or herself.
I remember my daughter coming home in 3rd grade with a paper that was marked 85, but when she added up the points, she should have earned a 91. She wanted me to call her teacher and take care of it. I refused and told her that she should go to her teacher the next day and politely ask her if she could recheck the grade. The next day, all was well and the grade was corrected. Teachers are human and make mistakes and students need to learn to advocate for themselves. If they don’t, you’ll find yourself being THAT parent who is still calling for their children when they’re in college!
9. Don’t try to resolve major problems or conflicts via email.
You don’t have to make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher for every little issue or question—neither you nor the teacher has time to do so. However, for major problems, it’s better to discuss the issue face-to-face or on the phone for two reasons. First, the nonverbal elements of facial expressions, body language, and most importantly vocal qualities or your tone, don’t exist in email form. Therefore, a simple statement such as, “I thought grades were going to be posted today,” could come across as demanding or accusatory. Second, if you’re angry and communicate via email, once you hit “send” your message is gone. There’s no taking it back. If you don’t want to say something you’ll regret later, wait until you cool off and pick up the phone to talk to the teacher or set a face-to-face meeting.
Here’s hoping everyone gets off to a great start in the new school year and builds great relationships with their children’s teachers! If you’re an educator, parent, or student and you have some additional advice to add, please comment and let us know!