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This is the time to get good parent-teacher communication practices in place for – gulp! – the next 12 years.
1. Connect early
If you can't make it to curriculum night, contact your child's teacher to introduce yourself and share any information about your child, such as a family situation, that might affect him or her (a new sibling or a recent death in the family, for example). "I love it when parents can give me some insight into their children," says Kimberley Smith, who has been teaching elementary school in Dartmouth, N.S., for almost 30 years.
Tip: Ask the teacher how she'd like to keep in touch – by phone, email, agenda notes or face to face – and exchange contact information. If you're separated or divorced, inform the teacher and let her know how you wish to handle the sharing of report cards and other school information.
2. Don't prejudge
When Toronto mom Jane Duke found out her oldest daughter was going to have "the dreaded, most awful teacher," according to schoolyard gossip, her heart sank. "Then when I met her in September, she didn't seem that bad," she says. "In fact, my daughter had the best year ever."
Page 1 of 3 – Find more tips for parents of elementary school kids on page 2.
Tip: Keep an open mind, advises Laura Mayne, co-author of Meet the Teacher: How to Help Your Child Navigate Elementary School (Firefly, 2010). "You wouldn't want the teacher to prejudge your child based on something she'd heard from a previous teacher."
3. Nip problems in the bud
If your child seems to be struggling, don't wait until the parent-teacher interview to contact the teacher. Conversely, ask your child's teacher to get in touch with you at the first sign of trouble. It's best to resolve a small problem right away rather than wait until it has escalated into something bigger.
Tip: When discussing a problem, try not to get defensive. The teacher is not an enemy.
4. Read what comes home
Teachers get frustrated when parents call and ask questions about things they should already know. Check your child's agenda after school and dig deep in his or her knapsack for buried info.
Tip: Designate a special place in your child's knapsack or a pocket in his agenda where important papers are to be kept.
5. Be appreciative
A heartfelt thanks goes a long way. "Even a stressed-out teacher who's had a rough day in a classroom of 30 kids would take a minute to read an email or note that starts with, 'I think you're doing a great job,'"says Kendra Cruickshank, who has been a volunteer and lunch monitor at her daughter's elementary school in Dartmouth, N.S., for six years. "I know they don't hear it nearly enough!"
Tip: Resist the urge to call the teacher at home to tell her what a great day your son or daughter had.
Middle and high school
Your tweens and teens now have to contend with multiple teachers and multiple expectations – which means you will, too.
6. Keep talking
Parent-teacher communication is just as important in the higher grades as it is in elementary school, says Scott McDonald, a learning resource teacher at Major Ballachey Public School in Brantford, Ont., who has experience helping students make the transition from middle school to high school. It signals to both the teacher and your child that you value education and that you're interested in what's happening in the classroom.
Page 2 of 3 – Do you know how to make a great impression on your child's teacher? Find expert tips on page 3.
Tip: Attend parent orientation night to learn how procedures differ from elementary school and what's expected of you and your child.
7. Take a step back
As the parent of an older student, your role is more coach and background support than advocate. Teachers want kids this age to learn how to self-advocate – to know when they need help and how to ask for it. Students shouldn't be embarrassed to get help if they need it, says Taylor Campbell, who graduated from high school with honours and is now in her second year at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "I would go in for extra help at lunch hour pretty much every day in high school."
Tip: If your child is struggling with a subject, talk to her teacher about what support is available, whether it's the school resource centre or a homework hotline.
8. Work the net
School and teacher websites and online information systems allow parents to track attendance, view grades, learn about upcoming announcements.
"I update my website every day so parents can see what their kids are supposed to be doing," says Jessica Lorenowicz, a high school teacher at Weston Collegiate Institute in Toronto. "It allows parents to be more involved in an inconspicuous way."
Tip: While new technology can be great for parent-teacher-student interaction, there's no substitute for meeting in person, says Lorenowicz. "Kids are better at interpreting email tone than parents are."
Don’t start off on the wrong foot
To forge a good parent- teacher relationship, follow this advice from Betty Borowski and Laura Mayne, co-authors of Meet the Teacher: How to Help Your Child Navigate Elementary School (Firefly, 2010).
• Don’t go over the teacher’s head. Talk to her first, then go to the principal if you can’t resolve the issue.
• Don't show up at the classroom door expecting an immediate meeting.
• Don't speak in the heat of the moment.
• Don't expect an instant resolution or response.
• Don't email the teacher if it’s not school policy.
• Don't dis the teacher in front of your child.
• Don't bail your child out – kids need to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Check out these five ways to improve communication with your childrens' teachers.
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