ML Nichols is the author of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.
Ever wonder what it really takes to get on the good side of your child’s elementary teacher?
While many parents think it means volunteering in the classroom and showing up for parent-teacher conferences, building a positive relationship with your child’s teacher actually begins with what you do at home to connect to your child’s education.
Teachers know which families support their children’s learning — and which do not. That’s because it shows up in the classroom every day through students’ work and the stories they tell. Just as your kids talk about school at home, children come to school innocently sharing stories about what mom or dad said about school, homework and teachers. And research shows, not surprisingly, that teachers have higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in productive ways.
Here are four powerful ways you can build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher:
1. Do your part: Teachers need your help with the basics and get frustrated when they don’t happen: Fill out school forms correctly before the deadline; read the teacher’s newsletter so you know what’s going on; get your kids to school on time every day; and fuel their little brains and bodies for learning. Make sure your child gets 10-11 hours of sleep and eats a healthy breakfast every morning (more protein, healthy carbohydrates and less sugar) so they can concentrate, process and retrieve information for six and a half hours. Sleep and diet impacts your child’s behavior and learning in school more than you realize. Teachers notice and appreciate when parents prioritize these basic needs. So ensuring they happen consistently is the best way to start building that positive relationship.
2. Connect with your child’s reading and homework: Teachers know which parents are reading with their kids and supporting homework in productive ways. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children (and their teachers) is reading to, with or in front of them throughout their elementary school years. Finding just 15 minutes to read every day influences your child in many ways. Reading the class newsletter or website helps you reinforce at home what your kids are learning at school. Make sure homework is done, but don’t do it yourself or correct it. Homework helps teachers identify which kids understand the material and which need a reteach.
3. Communicate effectively: Everything you write or say to your child’s teacher either strengthens or weakens the bridge you’re building. How you communicate with teachers also plays a big role in whether your concerns are heard — and how quickly they are addressed. Use my Power of P3 to keep messages focused and productive. Start out on a Positive note whether you’re communicating via note, email, phone or in person. Be Professional (polite and respectful in your observations and feelings) and Persistent when needed. Discuss issues on the phone or in parent-teacher conferences, not via email. And never go over the teacher’s head without letting him or her know you plan to do so. It’s not always easy to follow P3, especially if you feel frustrated about your child’s situation. But when blame and accusations seep into your communication, teachers will defend their actions rather than respond to your concerns.
4. Say “thank you” in words and actions: With higher curriculum standards, new teacher evaluations and endless testing, teachers are under a lot of pressure today. Acknowledge and support their efforts by sending a thank-you note or saying thanks when you see them. Even better, have your child write a thank-you note. If you can, send in materials when teachers ask for them. Most teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies and appreciate whatever help parents can give.
Showing up for conferences and volunteering in the classroom are important, but need to be combined with the above to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher.
Learn more about ML Nichols at theparentbackpack.com.