Published March 4, 2019
Nobody knows your kids better than you. You are in possession of a unique perspective and understanding of what makes them tick, what works and what doesn’t, what motivates and what discourages. Most of their waking hours, however, exist within the confines of the school walls, which means teachers and other school personnel also play a huge role in your children’s lives. Establishing a good relationship between yourself and the school is highly important to your child’s success and wellbeing, both in and out of the classroom.
But what do you do when the school day isn’t going well for your child or you feel their needs are not being met? In times like these, you might need to step up and advocate for them. But how do you do so in an open and positive way that will help, rather than hurt your child’s success? Here are a few basics to keep in mind:
This can be done in various ways. An email sent to the teacher at the beginning of the school year or semester will set up a conduit for the back and forth dialog that is integral to you child’s success in the classroom. By opening communication you show you are willing and interested in being a partner with your child’s school.
Take any opportunity you can to get in the classroom and step inside the doors of your child’s learning. Whether you spend a few hours volunteering during the month, chaperone for a field trip, meet your child for lunch in the school cafeteria, or attend parent teacher conferences, each moment in the school helps ensure you know your child’s daily setting and your child’s teacher knows you.
Take Time to Listen
Kids are a wealth of information about the dynamics of the classroom. By asking open ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”), you are likely to begin hearing lots of details about the activities of the day. If you pick up on issues or problems which warrant intervention, take your time in moving towards conclusions. Call or email the teacher and request a meeting to discuss more fully, then sift through the facts.
Document, Document, Document
If there’s any hint that you might need to press for changes in your child’s learning environment, or if the school is pursuing any disciplinary actions against your child, begin to document each and every step. Keep a notebook of the time and date the conversations took place, and jot a few notes on what was said and by whom. Compose a quick summary email of your view of the meeting, and send it to the teacher or administration, or both. Begin a paper trail and keep it updated. It will serve you well.
Know Your Child’s Rights
It’s a tricky world out there when it comes to rights for minors in the school setting. If you add in factors like Special Education accommodations and IEPs it gets even more complex. However, there are resources and help available. If your child has disabilities, a good place to start is the Center for Parent Information and Resources. Additionally, the ACLU has good information about the basics of student’s rights in the classroom. By being informed, you can be of greater help to your kids.
If there are problems in the classroom, or even in the district as a whole, know that you’re not battling them alone. There will likely be other parents who can share tips and tricks for navigating the system. There are also incredible support groups for parents of children with special needs that can be instrumental in educating you on how to best support your child in and out of the classroom.
Finally, Stay Calm
Tensions can rise when you begin down the path of figuring out what is best for your kids. You love them and want what’s best for them, and sometimes the system is frustrating and difficult to navigate. Do what you can to stay calm and grounded throughout. Not only will it make things easier at home and on your child, it will generally lead to the most favorable results.
You and the school are in a partnership that lasts 12 years. Make the most of it for you and your kids by staying involved and aware. You’ll enjoy a closer relationship with your child and your child will get the best the school has to offer for their future success.