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The Informed Parent

Successful Home-to-School Communication

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Dec. 01, 1998
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Keeping the lines of communication open between home and school assists in paving the way for a successful school year for students. When parents and teachers share what students experience in the home and classroom, the needs of the child can be met more fully.

Many times communication between parents and teachers has a negative connotation. Parents may let the teacher know if the child hasn't talked favorably about a school experience. A teacher may contact a parent about a student's misbehavior. Exchanging such information is valuable. Communicating about what is working well in the child's life is just as important.

Different families have different needs for contact with the school. Some parents want on-going communication with the teacher. Other parents believe that no news is good news. Unless a problem arises, they rarely talk with school personnel. Most families want to communicate with the teacher several times each school year unless an out-of-the-ordinary event occurs in the child's life.

Organized Opportunities for Communication

Making an effort to meet the classroom teacher shortly after school begins indicates your interest in your child's school career. It shows your child that you care about his school experience. Back-to-School Night, held early in the school year, is a fine time for the first contact.

Back-to-School Night focuses on introducing the academic program for the year and informing you about classroom procedures. While the teacher will want to meet you, the evening is not a time for conferencing. It can be a time for setting an appointment if you want a longer visit.

A second built-in time for talking with the teacher is the Parent-Teacher Conference. The first conference usually comes at the end of the first quarter or trimester of the year. During the conference you will learn how your child has progressed during the previous few weeks of school.

This is a good time for you to ask questions and share concerns. In preparation for the conference, make a list of what you want to discuss. This assures that topics important to you will be covered. Usually the conference is scheduled for one-half hour. If you feel you will need more than the allotted time, make sure the teacher knows well before conferences begin. This gives her the opportunity to schedule the time you need.

Often schools have Parent-Teacher Conferences again in the spring. Also during spring most schools have Open House. Less structured than Back-to-School Night, the evening gives you time to wander through the classroom at your leisure and speak individually with the teacher. Nonetheless, since she needs to be available to other parents, it is not a time for lengthy discussion.

Parent-Request Conferences

When you wish an individual conference with the teacher, careful preparation and consideration lay the groundwork for success. Considering the following suggestions will assist you in your preparation.

  1. Call ahead. Teachers do not usually have time for drop-in meetings. By making a formal appointment, you can be assured of receiving the time you need.
  2. Be on time. Let the school staff know if you will be late or need to cancel. Teachers have many after-school obligations. Respecting their time sets the tone for positive interactions.
  3. Go alone. Sometimes parents take young children to a conference. This is distracting to both you and the teacher. Rarely at such a conference do the points you want to cover get fully addressed. Giving your undivided attention to the discussion provides the greatest opportunity for a satisfying conference.
  4. Take the student if he is old enough. Usually a child eight or older can benefit from participating in a meeting that is about him. If there is information you do not want the child to hear, leave him home. Asking him to leave the room for part of the conference creates anxiety.
  5. Let the teacher know your plans to bring the child. This allows her to prepare differently from how she might if you were attending alone.
  6. Be clear about what you want to discuss. Preparing beforehand makes for a smoother conference and saves time. List any points you wish to cover. Write down any questions you have. Usually teachers plan about an hour for an individual conference. Preparation assures that you address all your concerns.
  7. Use "I" messages when speaking about personal concerns. An example might be, "I am concerned that Jason feels you pick on him." Taking responsibility for your concern leads to a discussion that gives you information. A "you" message such as, "Jason says you always pick on him," places the teacher in a defensive position and blocks communication.
  8. Keep telephone calls to before or after school hours. Teachers cannot leave their classrooms or easily accept in-classroom calls while working with students. If you need to contact a teacher during school hours, leave a message with the school secretary.
  9. Only call the teacher at home if she has indicated that she is open to at-home calls. If you need an evening call, leave a message with the school secretary. Many teachers make evening calls. This comes at their discretion. Respecting their privacy keeps communication doors open.
  10. Acknowledge the teacher for personal contact. "Thank you" goes a long way toward helping a teacher feel that the hours she puts in on students are appreciated.

Teachers want you to feel satisfied with the school program and with your child's academic, social and emotional progress. They appreciate your interest in school and your desire to share information. By taking the steps to ensure successful home-to-school communication, your child, you and the teacher benefit.




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