Every September, families enter the school year with the mystery of not knowing who their child’s teacher will be. As both a parent and an elementary educator, I understand this can be unnerving and (sometimes) a difficult transition. There are a variety of ways administrators and teachers work to facilitate the connection between home and school, but you as a parent can also play a big role in building this new relationship, and in turn, set your child up for success throughout the school year.
Early, in-person connections are so important to relationship development. This is an opportunity for everyone to put a face to a name, and that direct connection is so much more valuable than written or verbal. It’s human nature (and a lesson we’ve all learned over these last few years) that we understand each other better when we see each other.
Meeting in person is also an excellent opportunity to share your preferred method of communication. Do you like email contact? Phone calls? Zoom? When is the best time of day to contact you? Teachers understand that work schedules, transportation and language barriers can impact the way you interact with the school. Setting up a system that works for both you and the teacher is essential to maintaining effective, ongoing communication. If your school offers a meet-the-teacher night or open house, go! This is such a good opportunity to connect and see the environment where your child will be learning.
Another way to foster effective relationships between home and school is to take advantage of formal conferences. With an average of only two or three formal meetings each year, it’s important to make the most out of this conversation and keep it student-centered. Instead of trying to talk about everything in just 15 minutes, highlight a few questions, concerns or ideas that you feel important to share. You might consider discussing some of your child’s strengths, interests and challenges, ask questions about how you can support your child, or inquire into your child’s social-emotional wellbeing at school. This is also a good chance to get information about what support services are available to you if your child requires them.
Regular, ongoing communication with your child’s teacher helps maintain that connection between home and school. We often ask our kids “what did you do in school today?” and expect a lengthy reply. Instead, we usually get an effortless “nothing” or “we played in the gym.” These common, detail-lacking responses are totally fair and developmentally appropriate. At this point in the day, your child’s mental capacity around learning is totally capped and they may be too tired to express their thoughts. Many teachers provide families with weekly or even daily access to their child’s learning. This communication might be through a social media account, weekly newsletters, or a website. Taking the time to view these with your child is an effective way to facilitate the conversation about learning.
Families can also take time to connect through volunteer opportunities, when possible (some of the best parent connections I've made have been while riding on a bus or walking around the Zoo!), joining the school council or helping with fundraisers. And teachers love when families share their areas of expertise, especially if it’s connected to the curriculum. Is there anything you feel you could bring to your child’s classroom? Perhaps you have a background in science, history, engineering, crafting or technology? Opportunities for family members to come talk to the class and discuss their areas of expertise are more than welcome!
An obvious, but sometimes challenging, final note. Try to keep the relationship between home and school positive and mutually respectful. You and your child’s teacher may have different perspectives on certain topics, like homework or friendships, and that’s okay. Like any relationship, you can’t expect to have your values and expectations align perfectly all of the time. But maintaining open, positive communication that feels safe and secure for all stakeholders can help you to understand each other a little better. Personally, I love engaging in “small talk” with families! With regular communication, we get to know you and your child better.
I truly believe that the foundation for a successful school year is strong relationships, and there’s a lot of research that shows that family involvement in their child’s learning can lead to things like increased engagement, attendance and even grades. So this year, connect, make it work for you and your teacher, be as involved as you can be and try to maintain a mutual, respectful relationship in your short year together.
Ashley is a mom of three, Early Childhood Educator, and Elementary teacher. She has a Master’s Degree (Instructional Leadership) from the University of Calgary and loves inspiring families, educators, and caregivers to help their children learn at home and school. For more ideas, follow her on Facebook, facebook.com/teachthemlittle, and Instagram @teachthemlittle.
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