Starting the Year Off Right
With back-to-school television commercials abound and department store shelves stocked sky-high with stationary, it seems the “most wonderful time of the year” is upon us. The new school year is an opportunity to start fresh – a new classroom, a new grade, and a new teacher for your growing child! It is also an excellent opportunity for parents to start the year off right too.
Building strong parent-teacher connections is a critical component to your child’s academic success. What better time to start than the first day!
1. Meet the Teachers on the First Day
It is generally required for all teaching staff to be present outside on the playground on the first day of school. They are to be visible to parents and caregivers to address questions and concerns, and, of course, to say hello! While most teachers know the students by face, they rarely know the parents of their new students. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher(s) on the first morning.
This simple act sends a strong message to teachers and your own child – you are a parent who is actively involved in your child’s education and you’re interested in building a relationship with the teacher that goes beyond a phone call three times a year. However, do not use this opportunity to plunge into details about your child’s likes and dislikes, learning style and preferences. Your input is very valuable, but this isn’t the right time. Give the teacher a few days, even weeks, to get to know your child first before having this conversation.
2. Attend Open House or Curriculum Night at the School
Every school hosts an event during the first few weeks of school inviting parents to visit the classroom, peruse the curriculum for the year and meet the teacher. In my experience, many South Asians drop the “How’s my little Diya doing?” question within moments of arriving into our classroom.
This is a very challenging question for teachers to answer within the first few weeks of school when much of time has been spent getting to know students, building routines, and building a sense of community within the classroom.
For now, our goal is to construct a safe community conducive to learning for students. And, you, the parents, are a very important part of that community. Instead, ask, “Is Diya starting to feel comfortable in her new classroom?” This question will facilitate a more productive discussion leading to talking about your child’s learning style and preferences, and what the teacher and/or parent can do to make this year a success.
3. Join the PTA
With everyone’s busy schedules, it is certainly challenging to commit to the school Parent-Teacher Association/Council. So much so that PTAs have a bit of a reputation to be stay-at-home mom territory. Not true. Many PTAs across the country have an open door policy.
You can come to as much or as few meetings as you like. It is another opportunity for you to connect with the teacher community at your child’s school, ask questions, and communicate concerns.
4. Communicate Your Concerns in a Timely Manner
Little Jai tell a rather ‘interesting’ story at the dinner table? Unpleasant exchanges of words leave you uncomfortable? An unfair quiz or project? Whatever it is, you are better off picking up the phone and talking to your child’s teacher than (a) waiting until parent-teacher interview to say something, or (b) not communicating at all. Communicating your concerns in a timely manner helps the teacher resolve the issue. First, a timely phone call suggests the importance of your concern. Second, bringing your concerns to light helps us recall recent events accurately — instead of weeks or months later.
5. Drop in!
I love when parents drop in after school just to say hello! I know this isn’t possible for many parents due to challenging work schedules; however, if there is an odd afternoon you can drop by, definitely do so. Visibility is key. Seeing you in and around the school lets school staff (in addition to your own child) knows that you are actively involved in the school community, and you are available to talk when needed.
Perhaps most importantly, it shows teachers that you aren’t just going to show up when you have a concern. The implicit message is that you are interested in hearing the mundane on goings of your child’s day-t0-day activities, their little successes, and their incredible achievements. With this mind, teachers will be more likely to pick up the phone and call you not when something is going wrong, but when something is going right! What a delight that phone call is for both teachers and parents!
Remember, teachers are parents are on the same team, both striving for a successful year for your child. Just like any team, trust and good rapport between team members is critical. Start this year off right by taking the lead on building a strong parent-teacher relationship. You won’t regret it.
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