As your child progresses through school, he’ll come home with opinions. Maybe he loved a fraction lesson that used graham crackers to teach fourths. Or, perhaps he was confused after a lesson about inferences. “As parents,” says Betsy Landers, national PTA president, “we’re extremely concerned about our child’s education.” You’re also your child’s first teacher and best advocate. So, as you filter all the information that your child brings home, the good and the bad, here are nine ways to pass that feedback along your child’s teacher.
Build a Relationship First. Invite your child’s teacher out for coffee, stop by for a breakfast one morning before school, or take time out of an academic conversation to learn more about her. The rapport you establish with a teacher will help you communicate positives and negatives. “The majority of the time,” says Landers, “if you have a relationship with the teacher, there won’t be problems.”
Select Your Mode of Communication. As you start the school year, ask your child’s teacher the best way to reach her. Teachers are busy people and your child’s teacher may respond best to an email, rather than a phone call. Starting with the teacher’s preferred mode of communication, sending a note by email, calling, or sending a note in your child’s backpack is a good first step.
Pass Along the Positives. If your child comes home raving about a math lesson or read aloud story, send a note or make a call to let the teacher know that she’s doing a good job.
Take Advantage of Conferences. Parent-teacher conferences are a structured opportunity to communicate feedback. Even if a teacher says everything’s fine, Landers advises attending your child’s parent-teacher conference. In addition to giving feedback, you’ll learn more about your child. “If you can sit face-to-face with a teacher and find out what’s going on in the classroom,” says Landers, “that helps you improve the learning environment at home.”
Form A Partnership. Your child’s teacher should be your ally. If your child comes home with a frustration or concern, present it as a problem to solve, not an accusation or blame. “It’s important to keep the conversations focused on what’s best for your child’s progress,” says Landers. Explaining a concern, whether it’s a discipline issue or an academic concern, in a way that strengthens the home-school connection, will keep the focus on your child’s success. Always Ask for Another Perspective It’s a natural inclination to believe every word your child says and want to fix problems right away, however, when you approach your child’s teacher, make sure to get the full story. Your child’s account of a situation might not align with their teacher’s opinion. For example, if your child comes home complaining of boredom, instead of telling your child’s teacher to increase the difficulty, ask about the curriculum and how your child is performing. It may be that your child needs more challenge, or it may be that he hasn’t been completing assignments. In any conversation, says Landers. “I would always caution parents not to be defensive, but to be open and give the teacher the benefit of the doubt.”
Offer Observations. Another way to offer feedback on a negative situation is to offer your own observations rather than accusations. Tell the teacher what you’ve noticed at home. He may confirm your findings, or he may offer another perspective. “The greatest way to get someone involved is to offer them a way to buy in to a situation,” says Landers, “and their goal as an educator is to make sure that your child is successful.”
Suggest Specifics. Once you’ve identified the problem, advocate for your child by adding information or suggestions that the teacher might not know. Your child’s likes, dislikes, and frustrations could be helpful in crafting a solution.
Be Proactive. If you notice a concern, don’t wait to bring it to the teacher’s attention. It’s easier to remediate concerns in early elementary school, when students are learning the fundamentals of reading and math that they will build on in later elementary school and beyond. Also, the more proactive you are, the easier it is to address any problem.
As you work with your child’s teacher, don’t forget to provide feedback in a way that you would want to receive it. A positive note and recognition of the teacher’s hard work and dedication can create buy-in to shift a conversation toward the ultimate goal, your child’s success.