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Effective Communication With Your Child's School

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With school conference time approaching, it is important to reflect on effective communication strategies with you child's school and most importantly, his teacher. Here are five strategies I have found to be effective with our clients and my own children.

1. You are the customer

Whether your child attends a public school (you pay taxes) or a private school (you pay taxes and tuition), you are the customer. Keep a positive yet firm mind-set when you request a REASONABLE solution to your child's needs.

With a calm, yet firm, positive attitude, discuss your concerns with your child's teacher first. It is important to follow the "school chain of command" when seeking solutions. After the teacher, see the principal, pupil services director, superintendent and finally, the school board.

2. Focus on the Solution to a problem ... remove the blame

No one likes to be blamed for a problem, yet parents, children and even the schools, blame each other when "Johnny isn't learning or behaving" in the classroom.

State the problem

"Miss Jones, Suzy doesn't understand long division. I know we both want her to do well, let's discuss how WE can help her to improve."

Miss Jones will hopefully say something like this, "I agree, Suzy is having trouble in this area. Perhaps another student can work with her, or she can work with me after school."

Instead of blame

"Miss Jones, it's your fault my daughter doesn't understand long division."

Miss Jones understandably might reply: "Mrs. Smith, your daughter doesn't do her classwork or listen as I explain long division. She needs to try harder. If she doesn't try harder her grades won't improve."

The result is -- no solution!

Whether the problem is Suzy's confusion with division, Johnny's behavior or Mary's test grades, remain calm. Focus on a solution that the teacher, your child and you can develop together.

3. Getting the school to listen

Your relationship with your child's teacher and school is very important. Be assertive ... not aggressive in your communication. The term "assertive" reflects a positive confident attitude while "aggressive" tends to reflect anger and antagonism.

Communicate assertively when you ask the school's help with your child ... remember to focus on the solution.

Engage your team in solution follow- through

When the solution/plan is reached, ask your team (parent, teacher, principal, child) for input on how the plan is working. If the plan isn't being carried out, assertively refocus your "team" on the agreed to plan. Teachers have many children and challenges. The parent as a team member, can encourage and nurture the "solution plan".

When the solution works

Persistence pays off, celebrate the success! It's easy to complain, few people take the time to appreciate success. Write a letter of appreciation to the school superintendent thanking the teacher, commending her for her help with your child. Send a copy of the letter to the teacher and school principal. Your letter will be noticed! And, the next time you ask for help "to solve a problem", the school will listen.

4. Listen to Your Child

Listen to your child ... his or her thoughts, emotions and body language. Your thoughtful attention to your child's feelings and ideas about school will give you clues to small problems and their solution.

As you listen, remember your child's description of a situation may be inaccurate. Fill in the missing puzzle pieces by communicating positively with your child's teacher.

As an example, my son loved kindergarten and he enthusiastically approached first grade. However, in first grade he began coming home angry ... tearing up his papers. I could have said: "Just try harder, things will get better." Instead, I listened and recognized his feelings.

By communicating positively with his teacher, we resolved my son's frustration. And, his first grade experience turned into a positive one.

Your child's input is critical to finding a solution to school problems.

5. Understand the School

Every school has a personality. Its personality is developed by the school principal and its teachers. Today's schools are under constant scrutiny by parents, government and the media. "Bad press" can cause schools to change slowly.

As a parent, you have a unique "outsider's" perspective of the school environment. You don't "live" there 5 days a week like the staff . Use your creativity to help the school "think outside the box" when solving your child's problems. Discuss the benefits to the teacher in helping solve the problem.

Identify the problem

"Miss Jones, I know Ann's behavior is troublesome."

Admit you see the problem too

"She is a very active child and even at home she is a handful."

Suggest creative solution(s)

"Perhaps we can work together to help Ann and also make your job easier. Hyperactive children need to move around more often. I've been trying to think of some creative ways to help Ann be more settled in your classroom. What do you think of these ideas?"

  1. Give Ann a second desk so she can move between them in a controlled way.
  2. A short stair-step in the back of the classroom for children (especially Ann) to release excess energy. I'd be happy to buy it for your classroom.
  3. Find special tasks like collecting papers, that allow her to move around more.

"Miss Jones, what do you think? Do you have any better ideas? You've dealt with children of this sort more often than I."

Whether or not the teacher accepts your solution, you have started a dialogue to solve the problem TOGETHER. Keep talking!

NCTS Points of Interest

Introducing...Kathryn Lenz, the new Director of Student Services!  Kate joined NCTS at the beginning of October, replacing Jo Faidiga, who has moved on to an exciting and challenging position with the federal government. Jo will be missed, but it is our hope that you find Kate to be a helpful, pleasant, and responsive replacement. More information on Kate will be forthcoming in next month's newsletter, so stay tuned!

North Coast Education Services
120 North Main Street
Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44022

by: Carole Richards
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