It’s inevitable: The moment will come when you have an issue and you need to raise a concern with your child’s teacher. You’ll need the teacher’s help to understand and solve the problem. I recommend a five-step approach to maximize your chances of success.
Step One: Get involved and support the school before problems arise
When the day comes that you need the teacher’s help, you want them to already be thinking to themselves: “This is an involved parent who cares about their child’s education and the school. I’m happy to work with them.”
Step one, then, is to get involved with the school, before problems arise. Early in the school year, look for a volunteer role that aligns well with what you like to do. If you’ve got more time, you could do a regular job like volunteering in the classroom, helping out in the library, or coaching a sports team. If time is tight, look for short-term or one-time volunteer opportunities. Perhaps there is a fundraising event you can help with or a maintenance/cleaning day.
Critically, when you support your school, you’re building “influence capital.” Later, when you need to ask the teacher for help, the teacher will know that you’re the kind of parent who cares enough to get involved.
Step Two: Raise concerns briefly and gently
When you’ve got a school-related concern, it’s easy to let it fester in your mind. You may wonder: “Should I really worry about this?” Does the teacher have time to deal with this issue?
But it’s best to get concerns out on the table quickly, before misinformation or misunderstanding has time to grow and spread. Just as with personal relationships, it’s best to offer up concerns briefly and gently. For example, you could say to your teacher in a casual way: “Joey’s been telling me that school is ‘boring.’ Any idea where that’s coming from?”
Step three: Listen carefully
After you’ve raised your concern, listen carefully to what the teacher has to say. They may have a response that allays your concerns — at least for a while. They could say: “Boring? Really? Joey seems really into school when I see him. He’s working on a fabulous art project, progressing well with reading, and he’s got lots of friends. I’m surprised he says he’s bored.”
As you already know, what your child says is happening may be very different than what you would see happening. A short conversation with the teacher can provide insight that puts your child’s words in perspective.
Step Four: Iterate towards solutions
After you talk to the teacher, you may still have concerns. In this case, the best thing to do is to work with the teacher to iterate toward a solution. Don’t try to figure everything out at once. If, in response to your concern about your child saying he’s bored, the teacher says your child is often playing away from other kids and might feel lonely, then the two of you can brainstorm. You can discuss ways both of you can encourage and support your child to interact and make friends with other kids.
The key is to listen well and to and build on each others’ ideas. Nobody has the full truth in the parent-teacher relationship; the two of you will do the most good for your child when you listen closely to each other and build action plans based on both of your insights.
Step Five: Recognize and appreciate progress
The fuel for the next round of collaboration will come from the goodwill you generate when you recognize and appreciate progress, even if it’s only a tiny bit. Children develop at different paces and in uneven ways, and you never know how quickly issues are going to resolve. By taking a moment to appreciate a victory, even a small one, you’re giving yourself and the teacher the fuel you both need for the road ahead.
Follow these five steps, and you’ll be well on your way to building a strong partnership with your child’s teacher.