Share your expertise. Kids spend 70 per cent of their time outside of school and you are an expert on your child. Early in the term, fill the teacher in on your child’s strengths and interests, personality patterns and specific learning challenges. When you help the teacher connect with your child, you set everyone up for success.
Expect great things. Research shows parents’ and teachers’ expectations have a huge impact on kids’ development. Set high but realistic expectations for your child that is consistent with their age and ability. Share your expectations with educators. Their expectations are likely to rise in response – and that’s good for your child.
Confront problems early. Donna Henderson, Ph.D., a professor of counselling, recommends parents contact the child’s teacher at the first sign of falling grades, changes in behavior or increasing school-related complaints. Working together, you may be able to avert problems before they grow more complicated.
Respect teachers’ limits. Your child isn’t the only kid in the class and the teacher has a responsibility to ensure everyone gets the attention they deserve. Don’t ask teachers to make exceptions that interfere with other kids’ learning, says Henderson. Ask the teacher to point you toward additional resources and provide extra tutoring at home.
Spend time in the classroom. If you can, volunteer in your child’s class. Your presence shows your child you believe education is important. It also gives you the opportunity to see firsthand how the teacher works with your child and how relationships with other kids affect their learning.
Volunteer time outside the school day. Parents don’t have to be present at school to support kids’ teachers, Roberts says. Offer to prepare project materials or do research for an upcoming unit. Provide supplies for a class lesson or help grade papers in the evenings. Your kids will get excited when they see you doing homework, too!
Establish a family routine. Build time into kids’ schedules for reading and study in a designated, distraction-free location. Homework is much easier to accomplish at the same time and place each day instead of on-the-fly between soccer and piano lessons. Routines help kids manage stress and maintain healthy habits.
Plan regular face time with teachers. Even if you stop in for only a few minutes before or after school, make the effort to say hello and check in often. Stay in contact frequently, but don’t monopolize teachers’ time. Ask what you can do to best help your student prepare for upcoming lessons and follow through.
Reinforce learning in real life. Find teachable moments in your everyday routine and go over key concepts. Test math skills at the grocery store. Read books together and point out spelling words or parts of speech. Take in a concert or play. Kids need to see learning and problem-solving as everyday activities.
Run interference. If the demands of classwork are overwhelming your child or family issues are disrupting their ability to concentrate, communicate what’s going on and advocate for your child’s interest. Collaboratively identify ways to maximize learning. If your child truly needs extra time or an alternate assignment, ask for it.
Watch your tone. Present complaints calmly and respectfully, Henderson advises. Use specific examples and ask for the teacher’s ideas about what can be done. Remember, even if you disagree, you’re both on the same side. Your child is likely to lose if you get adversarial or aggressive.
Show your appreciation. Teachers don’t go into education for the money: their reward is in seeing your child grow, learn and achieve. Send an email to say how much your child enjoyed last week’s science experiment or write a note to the principal to compliment a job well done. Partnerships flourish when people feel appreciated.
Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a psychologist turned freelance writer. Read her blog on parenting as a leadership experience at www.leadingmama.com.
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