When challenges arise at school that require parental involvement, parents can be apprehensive about communicating with their child’s teachers or school administrators. It could be that the child is performing poorly in a class, experiencing social difficulties, or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of homework. If the child is “differently wired” (neuroatypical), as at least one in five children today are according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, there will likely be even more challenges that will need to be addressed with the school.
These interactions do not have to be an unpleasant experience, however: There are some important strategies parents can have in their toolbox to make communication more effective.
To be most efficient, try to identify the person in the best position to help you to talk to about your specific issue, be it the classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, head of school, instructional specialist, counselor, special education teacher, department head, or your child’s case manager.
One way to hone in on the right people to contact is to regularly peruse communications materials from the school. Read the principal’s monthly letter, the school’s weekly email, the PTA newsletter, and the school’s online platforms. Talk to other parents and join school-related listservs and social media groups. Finally, you can also ask school professionals directly. You may be surprised to find out that the assistant principal is the head of the special education department, as I recently did!
Find out how the individuals you have decided to contact prefer to communicate. You will probably be able to find this information in the school papers that were sent home with your child at the beginning of the year. Keep good records of your interactions so if you need to communicate again, you will accurately remember what transpired during the meeting and can follow up on how the school has responded.
Additionally, try to attend all parent-teacher conferences, school open houses, PTA meetings, and other school meetings, which will help you build relationships with the key players in your child’s education. You can learn a lot by staying active in the school community by volunteering for a few hours. You will be surprised by how creating relationships can help you build rapport with the school and bring about good will when important situations arise.
Before you talk to or meet with school personnel, write down key points and consider discussing your concerns with a confidante to help you gain clarity. Provide examples of the situation and be clear in communicating the problem area.
Most importantly, advocate for your child in a manner that is both respectful of the professional with whom you are communicating and mindful of your child’s needs. Teachers and administrators want to help their students; at the same time, schools have limited funds and resources and need to balance priorities. Compliment the educator on things that are going well, thank them for taking the time to talk with you, and firmly, clearly, and kindly state your concern or request. Conduct your interaction with the school as you would an important business meeting. If it is hard to keep your emotions in check, bring your spouse, a steady friend, or a professional advocate to a meeting or discuss the situation with an educational consultant who can help steer you in the right direction in addressing your particular concern.
If your school communication still leaves you unsatisfied, remember that you can always speak with someone who is higher up to help solve the problem. At the same time, you don’t necessarily want to go straight to the top if the problem may be managed more directly with the educator involved.
These communication tools have proven extremely effective with many families and have impacted their child’s overall well-being in school, and I hope they will help you as well. Wishing you much success in engaging in effective communication with your child’s school!
By Stephanie Frumkin
Stephanie Frumkin, B.A., M.A. Education, a native Washingtonian and former MCPS teacher, is an educational consultant and the founder of Exceptional Educational Solutions (EES). Stephanie is committed to finding exceptional educational solutions for out-of-the-box learners and supporting families on their journey to success. To learn more, visit http://exceptionaleducationalsolutions.com . Stephanie lives with her husband and two kids in Silver Spring, Maryland