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How to Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher

by: Angela Engel

Communication between parents and teachers is often critical to our children’s school success. Parent’s values and beliefs differ as do teacher’s styles and philosophies. The first step is to establish effective communication channels.

Getting started
Use whatever processes the teacher establishes to share information. Student planners, take-home folders, or weekly e-mails are more commonly used in the elementary grades. But don't stop communicating with your child’s teachers once he or she enter middle school or high school. Recognize the positive regularly. A quick note saying "Jane is looking forward to your computer technology workshop this year" is a great way to begin the school year.

Share decision-making authority
It is your responsibility as a parent to support your child’s learning and to advocate for their interests. Assume that teachers and administrators are interested in helping to find the best solutions for your child. The outcomes will be far better if you approach challenges with an attitude of cooperation. Look for solutions that distribute the responsibility to the student, parents and teachers rather than depending on the schools to solve every problem alone.

When it comes to classroom decisions, I defer authority to the teacher. However, when it comes to family and academic decisions made at home, I retain my authority. For example, if your child is spending too much time over homework in the evening, ask the teacher to modify the homework. I once made a deal with my daughter’s 4th-grade teacher that as long as her class work was deemed high quality with grades above 89 percent, she would not be required to do homework.

Communicate wisely
Communication should always be honest and direct; gossip is not productive, and it compromises your own integrity. Don't let big problems slide, but choose your battles wisely. If you are finding that you have problems with every teacher on a regular basis, you are likely the problem. Gather all the information before making any decisions or arriving at any judgments.

Troubleshooting a problem
Say that your son is spending too much time in the “naughty chair.”

Step 1: Identify the problem. Is he bored? Has recess been eliminated? Is too much of the instructional time desk work? Is he trying to get his classmates’ attention?

Step 2: Gather information. Talk with your child and listen. Get his teacher’s thoughts, and ask other teachers if they have observed any issues. Conduct some research. Perhaps your son requires physical play to help stimulate his ability to learn and therefore runs around during lesson time, disrupting the class.

Step 3: Develop a plan of action. Communicate in whatever way feels most comfortable (for example, meeting, phone call, or written communication). Clearly identify the problem. Share your findings. Then ask for some specific changes. For example, you may ask that your child not lose recess as a punishment. Perhaps the agreement is that he loses privileges at home if he doesn't come home with a complimentary note at the end of the week. Or you may ask the teacher to switch his classroom management style to acknowledge your son for good behavior rather than punishing him for bad behavior.

Step 4: Always follow up. Parents, teachers, and students need to know what works so that those strategies can be repeated in the future or modified, as needed. Recognize your son for helping to solve his own problems. Also, thank the teacher for his flexibility and willingness to make classroom changes.

Angela Engel has worked as a teacher, school administrator, speaker, and policy advisor. She is the author of Seeds of Tomorrow: Solutions for Improving Our Children’s Education (Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, Colorado). Go to www.angelaengel.com for more information.