Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Number ONE thing You Can Do to Set Your Child Up For Success in School.

Your children are about to go back to school and (apart from secretly or not so secretly, jumping up and down with excitement), you have been rushing around gathering everything they need for a smooth start.

You have assembled their
Superhero backpacks
School supplies
School clothes or uniform
School and medical forms
Lego themed Lunch boxes and healthy school snacks
PE kit
Locker decals, fancy highlighters and Frozen themed everything
And so on….

You are trying to get your kids back into some semblance of a normal bedtime routine and making sure they've done their summer reading and completed their math packets, even if it means 8 hours of reading, every day, from now until school begins.

You have checked all these things off and now you are left perhaps with your child's angst about the new school year and probably your own.

I have sat on both sides of the teacher's desk, as a classroom teacher, special needs practioner and Principal and as a parent for 21 years!

I have partnered with parents to ensure a good outcome for their kids and been that anxious parent with a litany of worries about my own three kids.

When school begins will they be with their friends, or make new ones?
Will they be bullied?
Will they stay organized?
 Will they manage to find their way from one classroom to the next?
Will they struggle with their writing?
Will they cope with the new math program?
Will they find the homework load manageable?
Is a second or third language too much for them to learn?

 And probably most importantly of all, will they have a great teacher or teachers who can help make a difference in all these areas?

The number one thing you can do to enhance the chances of a great school year is relatively simple, costs nothing but can have the biggest impact on your child's happiness and success…...

It is making sure you as the parent have a positive and  productive relationship with your child's teacher(s). 

How do you help that along? 

How do you make sure that when you have a concern about your child during the school year, you can partner with their teachers for the best outcome for your child?

Here are a few things to remember: -

  • You are an expert on your child at home and your child's best advocate away from home.

  •  The manner in which you advocate can promote cooperation and change OR damage important relationships with the staff you need to work with.

  • A teacher juggles all her clients' (aka students) needs at the same time, in one room, every workday of the year. Do you know of another profession where that occurs? 

  • Teachers want to do their best for our children. They care deeply about their academic, emotional and  social development. They spend hours each night and at weekends planning for positive, stimulating classes and outcomes. If they have a concern, it is part of their training and  job to communicate that with you and to strategize and implement ways to help and support your child, in school. They also want to communicate the wonderful things about your child. If the feedback feels unbalanced, you can gently ask for some positive observations too.

  • A teacher is human too. When someone complains aggressively, rudely and without context as his or her first interaction with her, she is likely to, as I'm sure you would, become defensive and wary of that person.

  •  If you want to raise a complex issue with your child's teacher, meet them in person and have a face-to-face, respectful discussion. Email is not a good vehicle for discussion. It eliminates nuance and emotion.  It is however,  good for sharing information quickly, as a follow up to an in-person meeting and as a way to express your appreciation throughout the year.

  • Try to resist your initial opinions of your child's new teacher, being colored by other children's and adults' previous interactions. Each relationship is different. Wait at least until you have had some interactions yourself and your child has spent a good few weeks in school. You and your child are unique. How your child interacts with the teacher and how you do the same, may be very different from others' and you can certainly start off trying to form a warm, collaborative partnership without pre conceptions.

So with all that in mind you want to know how to pave the way for a successful year of communication with your child's teacher, so your child thrives and reaches her potential.

First, let me tell you what doesn't work well:

1. Having no contact  with the teacher until there is a problem that needs intervention, half way through the year. 

2. Blaming the teacher from the outset for any problem there is, without getting more information or listening to the teacher's version of events. 

3. Going above the teacher's head, to the head of department, head of year or principal as your first contact with the school about an issue that is teacher centered.

4. Contacting the teacher and expecting a return email or call before the end of the school day. 

5. Being rude, accusatory or officious to the teacher. Creating a scene in front of your child or badmouthing your child's teacher to other teachers you may be friendly with.

Here's what does work:

1. Talking positively and respectfully with your child about their teachers before school begins and during the school year.

2. Connecting with the teacher  in the first days or weeks of school to thank her in advance for teaching and nurturing your child.

3. Maintaining  polite, positive interactions so that if/when you have an issue it is viewed within the context of a partnership that is positive, supportive and collaborative.

4. Writing to thank the teacher after a meeting, parent conference or back to school night or to tell her how engaged, excited or empowered your child is, as a result of being in her classroom.

5. Letting the teacher know as soon as possible if your child has any particular issues or changes at home that might impact his/her attitude,behavior,  performance or social interactions in school.

E.g. death of a pet
A Parent being away for an extended period of time
A serious illness in the immediate family
Issues with another of your children
Change in the family structure: a new baby, sibling going away to college, changes in your marital status, death of a grandparent.

6. Going to the teacher to discuss an issue you have concerns about, rather than discussing it with everyone but the teacher.

7. Asking the teacher for more information about an incident your child reports, respectfully and with interest rather than in an accusatory, threatening or rude manner. 

Listen to understand the situation the teacher is describing, not just to give a response.

Kindness and clarity are a great combination.

8. Appreciating and thanking the teacher throughout the year. Honestly, I know you think I'm repeating myself. But have you ever been thanked too much?? As long as you are authentic you can't go wrong!

9. Offering to help in the classroom, if that is something that interests you and you have time.

Teachers, what would you add to this list? 

Parents, is there some thing you have done  in the past that has helped you communicate effectively with your child's teacher? 

What has a teacher done that has eased your concerns and brought you and your child comfort?

Good luck with the start of school. Let me know how it goes!

Have a great week.

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  1. All good advice and i agree, as a teacher and a parent.
    FYI on a Robert Winston programme about child development (a child of our time) he devoted one episode to starting school. There was a quiz for people to do at home and two pieces of advice stood out. 1. Don't tell your child it's ok as long as s/he does his/her best. Tell them that school is important and they have to work hard in order to succeed. And 2. More than anything your child want to belong and this is especially important to girls. So help them to look their best and if all the girls have long hair and wear pretty dresses (or jeans) then let your daughter have the same. Social success acceptance is very important. And one more from my own reading: if your child finds it hard to make friends it is vital to help them by arranging playdates and asking the teacher to facilitate social opportunities. Children need friends!

  2. Thank you Rachel. You raise 3 extremely important points. Dr Kenneth Ginsburg who is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and practices adolescent medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia would certainly agree with Robert Winston's point. In his book "Building Resilience, he says that teens tell him that being told to " Just try your best" drives them crazy.He goes on to say. "No one really does their best so they are always underperforming and disappointing their parents and themselves." Dr Ginsburg suggests you say instead….." I expect you to put in a good effort. It's not your grades I care about;it's that you are learning and you keep working at i even when it is hard."

    The social piece is so important for kids and they do not want to stand out. They want to watch the same shows, dress in a similar way etc so that they fit in.Yes, I think parents , particularly when kids are small can help a great deal with social skills.Teachers can also be aware of social challenges in the classroom and play ground and facilitate situations where children learn how to be good friends and kind and compassionate people.