Hannah Dickson spends an hour with Diane Levy
Chances are, at some time during your child’s school life you will need to have a one-on-one chat with the teacher. It may be about bullying, lack of friends, work that is too hard or work that is too easy. As with any delicate subject, it pays to sharpen up your communication skills before you approach teachers who have limited time and a huge workload. Here are six tips for getting the most from the parent teacher relationship.
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1. Form a relationship
It’s our job as parents to not only form a relationship with the teacher, but encourage our children to form one too. The first step is establishing a positive ‘meet and greet’ routine. Teach your child how to say, “Good morning” to their teacher and then, “Goodbye and thank you” at the end of the day. Help in the classroom when you can. Apart from your willingness to contribute services to your child’s class, it is a great opportunity to understand how the classroom is working and how your child is functioning in the classroom. This is not a shameless ploy to get on the teacher’s good side, but it is another way of forging a relationship with the teacher. Just be sure your intentions are to be helpful, not to be a spy!
Early on, establish how the teacher likes to be communicated with. Do they prefer to be contacted by email? The mornings are usually a busy time setting up for the day, so unless it’s something urgent the teacher needs to know about for that day, avoid chats at this time. Also, avoid chats after school within your child’s hearing. The last thing you want to get into is the daily report of, “We haven’t had a very good day.” If there seems to be an issue, make an appointment to speak together.
2. Get more information from your child
Usually, our first way of helping our children is to give them solutions – “Just walk away. Find someone else to play with.” Alternately or additionally, we often use distraction. If they come home and say they have had a bad day, we might try and distract them with offers of a nice afternoon tea and trip to the playground.
The negative aspect to these approaches is that if they are not effective in solving the problem, they tend to shut our children down. They may feel they haven’t been listened to, and we’re left with little information to approach the teacher with.
What your child really needs is to know that you are on their side. If you are going to talk to the teacher, you need to be able to provide times, facts and other specific information. So when your child tells you they have had a bad day, ask, “What made it so hard?” Let them tell you their story. Often the best time to get this kind of information is at bedtime. If you take it seriously, and are prepared to listen for about a fortnight, you will find that either, through your listening the problem has resolved itself, or, you will have enough information to take it to the next level.
3. Establish good faith
When you speak with the teacher, let them know what you have already tried, so you are not presenting them with the problem first. Be diplomatic. Instead of saying, “You need to do this,“ try saying something like, “My child is desperately unhappy, this is what they are struggling with, I need your help.”
Explain the problem your child is experiencing and talk about what you have already done to try and resolve it. If they are having trouble making friends, explain that you have tried to encourage after-school play dates. If they are struggling with homework, tell the teacher you have tried to help your child, and have experimented with a variety of different schedules.
4. Give feedback and be prepared to try again
After you have met with the teacher, keep the lines of communication open and let the teacher know how things are going. Your feedback may be, “Thanks, it worked!” or, “Things may still need some fine-tuning.” Bear in mind that it is very rare for an intervention to work for the rest of the year. Rather than thinking in terms of, “This isn’t working anymore,” think in terms of, “It worked, what was it that worked, and can it be done again?”
Be prepared to go back to the teacher if things start falling apart again –“Thanks, it has worked for several weeks but we seem to be back with the old problem. Can we meet, and could you please weave your magic again?” Of course, there is always the possibility that a different approach may be needed this time round.
5. Beware the tell-tale rule
Traditionally, the ‘don’t tell tales’ rule has been very much a part of Kiwi culture. We need to remember that it is a rule that protects bullies. If your child is being bullied, be prepared to take names, dates, and sequences to the teacher. It may be that the bully child is behaving well in class in front of the teacher, but problems are happening in the playground. Be specific. If you don’t feel you are making progress with the classroom teacher, talk to the team leader or the principal.
6. You are your child’s advocate
Remember, teacher and home are the components that make up your child’s educational team and you need to work together when there are issues. If your child is feeling unsafe or miserable at school, they will not be able to learn. Your child needs you to be their advocate.
Your child is entitled to feel happy and safe at school. That way, they can get the best out of the educational opportunities that school offers them – and that is good for the child, the parent and the teacher.
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