Healthy Communication with Your School
At the heart of education is good communication. Communication is the key to any success in life, work and relationships. When it comes to your children’s education, you definitely want to be successful in your communications with their school. We live in a communication age where instantaneous access and 24/7 connectivity has become the new normal, so it follows that teachers can no longer get away with just a monthly newsletter. Schools and teachers are increasingly required to manage the flow of communication to not just the students sitting in the classroom, but also to parents at home and in the workplace. This increased access means that schools and staff need to become more innovative and creative in how they communicate. Most schools communicate via email and phone, but more and more schools are incorporating instant messaging and social networking apps to provide parents with more personal and frequent updates, which is fantastic – what’s more wonderful than getting a beautiful picture of your child engaged in learning while you having a tough day at work? Research studies clearly show that good communication between parents, teachers and schools plays an important role in the child’s all round academic and social development. There is a distinct correlation between family involvement and student academic achievement, including higher-grade averages and scores on tests, more classes passed, higher admissions in more challenging subject areas, as well as better attendance and behavior at both school and at home. With more access and communication than ever before perhaps it is prudent that we as parents remember that teachers are busy people and that we need to respect some boundaries. In this article I will share some Do’s and Don’ts on how to communicate with your school and teachers in a healthy manner that is sure to benefit not only you and your children, but also the school and its community as well.
Do Get to Know Your Teacher
Here’s a tip. Teachers have to remember lots of names and you can help them by stating your name the first few times you meet. Say “Hi I’m Johnny’s dad, Kevin. Nice to see you again.” Teachers meet a lot of parents, and though they will know your child’s name, sometimes parents’ names take a little while longer to stick. Be friendly and introduce yourself each time. Knowing your child’s teacher will go a long way in helping you both to work in partnership to foster and help your child’s learning. You will find that when you have a healthy rapport with your child’s teacher, regular updates and tips will be readily forthcoming and you will be kept more in the loop in regards to your child’s challenges and successes.
Do Be Transparent
We all expect our schools to be open and honest about what’s going on in class and to keep us up-to-date with learning. This works both ways; provide information that will help the teacher get to know your child as an individual. Keep the school and the teacher up-to-date on any information regarding allergies, behaviors (positive and negative), learning issues, or changes in family life.
Don’t Get Too Personal
This is after all, a professional relationship and like all professional relationships personal boundaries need to be respected. By all means get to know what your teacher’s favorite treat is for when you want to say thank you for a job well done! But also respect teacher’s downtime; most teachers don’t take breaks, even for lunch, and will work all day non-stop. So contact outside of work hours is generally a no-no. Find out when is a good time to talk, and the best way in which to contact them.
Do Speak Up - But Be Diplomatic
Sometimes the meaning of information from school can get lost in educational jargon or rhetoric. If you are confused about something going on, or would like more information, don’t be afraid to reach out to your teacher and speak up. If you need clarification on curriculum or issues with your child just ask, and the information should be forthcoming. A word of caution though: as an educator and a parent I can tell you that normally nice, friendly, professional and competent people can become overly passionate when it comes to talking about issues regarding their kids. When communicating with your child’s teachers it is important to remember that they are people with feelings too, often parents themselves, willing to sacrifice time with their own families to look after and care for the educational needs of your children. Strive to be diplomatic, especially in writing. Choose words carefully and avoid overt criticism.
Don’t Blame the Teacher
Teachers teach because they care. Taking a defensive or threatening approach when communicating is rarely necessary and never successful. Instead take responsibility for your part in any issue, and work with your teacher on strategies for improvement. Use “I” statements to talk about things and try not to give the teacher the evil eye.
Do Use Texting and Email to Your Advantage
As mentioned before the old school newsletter is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Email and texting are approved forms of communication in many schools, and though great for parents they do extra work for already busy teachers. Try not to burden them with long streams of notes and long phone calls. Instead, identify your communication needs to check in with homework, find out about class events or to inform teachers about an absence.
Don’t Abuse Email and Texting
Firing off a quick text is fine to let your child’s teacher know about a dentist appointment, but it’s not a substitute for actual conversation. Schools who approve texting and social media communication do so as a courtesy service and often have recommended guidelines to assist you in that communication. You’ll still need to attend parent-teacher conferences and see these people in the flesh, so keep tech communication friendly, respectful and professional.
Do Volunteer to Help
Offer to sign-up for events or to help out in the class. Donate items that the school could use. Volunteer to go into the class and share your professional expertise or to read a book. If you’re unsure how to get involved, ask your teacher or school administrator for ideas. Let them know you’re keen to get involved!
Do Show Your Appreciation
You’d be surprised how much your kind words and appreciation means to teachers. A card, flowers, or even a quick message can mean the world to a hard working teacher. Send a note of appreciation to the teacher when things go well in class (and mention it to the principal, too).
Do Be Patient
Remaining positive can be challenging if the teacher has some bad news about your child, and it may even be difficult to hear what they need to communicate with you. Take a deep breath and be calm. Remember that your teacher wants to help you and your child. Try to focus on solutions and work with the teacher to come up with a healthy plan to help your child learn.
Good communication is so important for you and your child’s success at school. With the advent of technology and instant messaging there has been a tendency for communication to be broken down into abbreviations and emoticons, and for our words to be sometimes too direct and to the point. In the education setting this can very easily lead to miscommunication. When it comes to your child, you want to choose your words carefully for your meaning to be as clear as possible.
On a personal note as a teacher, I always really appreciate parents who touch base with me regularly about their child. Little chats here and there at pick-up and drop-off are great, as are quick messages on the phone or email. These communications help me create a more personalized curriculum – one that targets the student’s needs and interests. And because we communicate frequently, I also feel it is easier to reach out to those parents about issues in the classroom, both positive and negative.
It’s common for parents to feel unsure about when to contact their child’s teacher, but don’t hesitate. Teachers always welcome partnership with their student’s families, because in the end that’s a win-win for everyone.
By Christian Williams,
Academic Director, The Little Urban Center