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I have always looked upon my child’s learning as an experience to be managed by a team that includes myself (and sometimes, my husband), his teachers and my son. It hasn’t always been easy and I have had to figure it out as I go along – I want to be involved in my kid’s education without being an over-bearing or helicopter parent, yet ensure that his educational and social needs are met. Here are some tips to make the best out of that all-important parent-teacher connection.

Establish the Connection early in the year
In US schools, Back to School night at the beginning of the school year is the best opportunity to meet the teacher and gain an understanding of the teacher’s goals, expectations, and teaching methods. It is also a great opportunity to briefly introduce yourself and set the stage for communication through the rest of the year.

If your school does not offer this opportunity or you missed it for any reason, you can set up a short meeting early in the school year to have a similar conversation with the teacher. Most teachers will be happy to accommodate this request.

Also make sure that you fill out all forms that gather information about your child at the start of the year. This provides valuable information about your child’s interests and learning style to the teacher.

Make the most of Parent-Teacher Conferences
Parent-Teacher conferences are the single, most important communication tool between you and your child’s teacher where you can focus exclusively your child’s development and progress. It’s an opportunity not to be missed!

Prepare for the conference

  • Before going to the conference, I spend a short while thinking what I want to talk about - it may be related to academics or to my child’s social skills.
  • One year, my son was having a particularly difficult time making friends so I knew that the first question I would ask was how he related to other kids in the classroom and on the playground. I also thought through how I would phrase the question as I did not want to sound accusatory or put the teacher on the defensive.
  • It is important to remember that you are all on the same side and want the best for your children.
  • I also make it a point to tell my son I’m going to talk to his teacher and ask him if he has any questions or concerns that I should discuss with her.

Information that the teacher will and probably won’t share.

  • Teachers will share your child’s progress on academic and behavioral fronts. Typically, positives are highlighted and then the areas that need development. It is a good idea to listen carefully to the latter without jumping in to defend your children and instead, focus on solutions or things you can work on at home.
  • You can use this meeting to understand more about your child’s strengths in the classroom, the kinds of books he or she likes to read and how the kids are assessed. I was able to find out my son’s current reading level as well as the expected level at the end of the grade and whether he was on track to getting there – all really useful stuff!
  • I even learnt a few strategies that I could use at home to help him progress, such as pointing to words while reading to him and discussing the book afterwards.
  • Where student ranks are not declared, the teacher will simply indicate whether your kid is at par/above or below grade level but little else about his or her relative standing in the class.
  • Teachers will be careful not to make any statements that sound like a medical diagnosis but they may have noticed an issue and could suggest getting an informed opinion. This could help you detect and resolve issues early on so it is important to pay attention. For instance, my son’s preschool teacher revealed that very often the teachers in his class could not understand his speech so it might help to check whether he required speech therapy.

Information that you should share.

  • This is also a good time to share information about events at home that may be affecting behavior in the classroom such as, the birth of a sibling or an imminent move. If you’ve noticed behavioral changes at home, you can try and find out if something in the classroom is upsetting your child.
  • I also like to share how I tie performance at school to incentives at home. My son’s teacher used the information that I reward his good writing work in school to motivate him further.
  • You can also make tactful suggestions that you think will be good for the classroom. For example, I asked if kids could present a daily news snippet or do a share once a week because I felt they needed more opportunities to present in front of a group.

Share the Feedback and Takeaways from the conference with your kids

  • Let your kids know all the positive things you heard about them from their teacher. They will be thrilled.
  • Also discuss the areas where they need to improve and come up with a plan together.

Maintain contact through the year
Try to use every opportunity you get to visit your child’s classroom. Your child will love it and you can notice the interaction between the children and also with the teacher. It also helps you keep the communication flowing between you and the teacher. Even if you don’t have any concerns, a simple note of appreciation means a lot to teachers as they toil on a daily basis with our kids and helps to maintain the relationship. These days, email communication between parents and teachers has made it even easier to stay in touch. After the Newtown disaster, I was moved to email all my son’s teachers (past and present) and convey my gratitude for their daily heroism and dedication.

Your kids’ teachers are a central figure in their lives and by corollary, in yours. It will always be well worth the effort to know them, appreciate them, and work together to bring out the best in your kids.

To read more articles on K-12 education, visit http://www.schoolsnmore.com/articles/search/category/124

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