How to Stay Involved in Your Child’s Education
By H.M. Cauley
For many parents, the weeknight doesn’t end until the homework is over. Then it’s on to making sure everything is ready to go in the morning, from backpacks to sneakers. But being the involved parent of a school-aged child means more than just drilling vocabulary words and getting your kids to class on time. It requires a commitment to partnering with teachers and the school to make sure that everyone is on the same page. when they discuss their expectations for the year and solicit volunteers to help out in the classroom.”
Getting an Early Start
Just about every school hosts regular parent-teacher conferences where parents can interact with those who are educating their children. But many schools also employ built-in systems for keeping the lines of communication open, starting before the student even sets foot in the classroom.
Teachers in the Cobb County School District reach out to parents during the system’s annual meet-and-greet sessions before the school year begins. “Teachers usually give out sheets with their contact information, including an e-mail address,” says Dr. Barbara Swinney, area assistant superintendent. “It’s also the time
At Atlanta Girls’ School, a Buckhead independent school for girls in grades 6 through 12, “We start each school year with grade-level meetings, and each grade has a dean who also gets to know the students and families,” says Dean of Students Peggy Hasty.
Patsy Ward, lower school principal at The Children’s School in Midtown, says her staff starts off each school year by calling every family individually to discuss their expectations and goals.
“We encourage parents to share what their hopes and dreams are for the coming year and to tell us what their vision is,” she says. “It’s also a good time to talk about a child’s special learning needs or style or strengths. The more insight a parent can provide, the better for us. And it’s important to know that well before the first parent-teacher conference.”
Keeping Parents Up to Date
As the parent of an elementary-aged student, Cobb County’s Swinney sees firsthand how effectively the school system maintains a consistent and informative relationship with parents.
“First, school communication comes home every night, and I have to sign it,” she says. “Teachers write notes, and I can write notes back. On Friday, I get a folder of all the assignments, and there’s usually a teacher newsletter in there, too. The teachers also create videos and post them on the school’s website as resources for parents to work with children. Teachers will also call up to remind about events and invite parents to come to the school. It is definitely well beyond just going to a parent-teacher conference.”
Similarly, Hasty says that at Atlanta Girls’ School, the goal is to make parents team players in their children’s success.
“We help our parents to be partners with us so we can provide the very best learning environment,” she says. “All students also have an advisor who is the student’s advocate, and that person is in contact with parents monthly. And parents can always approach teachers directly. We constantly work to help parents understand where their student is in her learning and social development.”
The school has an extensive website where homework assignments and grades are posted, so parents can monitor progress. It’s also a tool for keeping everyone up to date on activities and events for both parents and students. When parents get to know what’s going on and what resources are available, it enhances the learning experience, Hasty says.
“Of course, online [communication] never replaces a relationship with a student’s teacher, dean or advisor,” she notes. “But it’s another way to make parents partners with us so everything works so much more smoothly. It’s hard to think of situations we can’t overcome when we’re all on the same page. And if we’re all talking to each other, that also means that students can’t play one against the other.”
“I always say we can solve any problem as long as we can talk about it,” says Ward, whose school serves students from age 3 through sixth grade. “If a child comes home and reports something that happened, and it doesn’t seem right, I tell parents to call us right away. But I also discourage teachers from having lengthy conversations via email; it’s really hard to read someone’s tone. I tell teachers if they use email, it should be to set up a good time to call.”
Another way for parents to achieve a better understanding of what’s going on in their child’s education is to volunteer at the school. It’s a great way to establish relationships with staff members and other school officials and get a better look at how the school operates, says Cobb County’s Swinney.
“When I was a principal, we had parents in the building all the time,” she says. “Being there gives them the chance to develop relationships not only with their own child’s teachers but with everyone. As children get older, it seems there are fewer opportunities to get involved, and you have to make more of an effort, but I feel the older they get, the more they need you there.”
The bottom line, says Ward, is that a strong relationship with a school or a particular teacher helps to establish a parent’s trust in their child’s education, which can be especially helpful if there’s bad news or a behavioral issue.
“If a teacher has difficult information to deliver, parents are more receptive if there’s already a trusting relationship,” she says. “They know the teachers have the child’s best interests at heart. There’s no question that the relationship between the school and families is essential to a child’s success.”
Tips For Building A Good Working Relationship
- Ask Questions: Ask for regular updates on your child’s academic, social and behavioral progress, and how you can help at home.
- Follow Up: In addition to parent-teacher conferences, ask the teacher which method of communication works best for regular feedback: phone calls? Emails? Monthly visits?
- Other Ways to Get Involved: Helping out an hour a week can provide valuable insight. But even just chaperoning a field trip or dropping by to donate supplies is a great way to establish a connection and show you’re involved.