How to get the most out of your child’s teacher this year

Cluey’s Tutor Development Manager and former deputy school principal, David Erwin, shares his advice to parents on communicating with their child’s teacher

How to get the most out of your childs teacher this year
Cluey Learning Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Your child’s teacher plays a very important role in the growth and development of your child. In fact, many experts would state that teachers are the second most important person in a child’s life, falling only behind parents. With teachers having this much influence over your child’s future, it’s imperative that you work to build a strong relationship with your child’s teachers. These positive parent-teacher relationships are even more important when you have a child with learning or behavioural considerations.

Not only is a strong parent-teacher relationship a good idea, but it can affect your child’s school success. There are many studies that link positive parent-teacher relationships to student academic achievement, motivation, positive behavioural outcomes, improved attitude, and even social competence. The ability of a child to feel safe and cared for both at home and at school helps promote classroom success at any age.

School Communication

Before considering the deeper connection with your child’s classroom learning, I would strongly encourage you to source your child’s school’s communication platforms and channels. The great diversity among families now, means that it is not possible to rely on a single method of communication that will reach all homes with a given message. Schools utilise a variety of communication strategies starting with a school website. Here, you will find much detailed information of the school’s strategic planning and priorities, annual school reports, school operational process and procedures, the all-important contact details and in many cases, the school’s policies, or references to these.

Whilst many schools make use of newsletters, and may still distribute these in hard copy, more and more schools are moving to smart phone applications or more recently, parent portals. As parents, you should ensure access to these important channels of communication. Daily updates, school notes and urgent communications through smart phone applications, and perhaps more importantly, through parent portals, where depending on a school’s setup, you can have access to a suite of information about your child(ren) including all school reports, attendance details, their timetable or teacher(s) details, support programs, subject details, and assessment schedules as well as other important information related to your child. Some schools utilise such portals for teachers to communicate directly with parents via the portal’s messaging services.

If you are unaware if these channels exist for your child’s school, check the school’s website first before enquiring with the school. Having access to more information when needed can help significantly in your understanding of what is taking place in your child’s school and their classroom.

How to make contact with your child’s teacher

To begin a partnership with your child’s teachers, one must first make contact. At the beginning of the school year, many schools organise “Meet the Teacher” events, allowing for parents and teachers to meet informally, whilst in most cases, the first opportunity to meet with your child’s teacher is at formal parent teacher evenings which take place late in term 1 or early term 2 – this is particularly the case in high schools. In such cases, it’s important for you to make contact with the teacher before this. The best way to contact your child’s teacher is via email. Many schools provide these on their website however, in the case where they don’t, phone the school to ask for the teacher to contact you back. When they do, exchange emails in that conversation, as given a teacher’s time in the day is quite busy, emails are the best way to communicate and you’ll also be able to keep written records of all communications.

Remember, it’s important to have realistic expectations around this contact. For primary, a teacher may have anywhere up to 30 students in their class and for secondary teachers, they may have in the vicinity of 140-160 students across their classes. It’s important to realise that during the school day, teachers have very little time amongst classes, meetings, preparation and planning time, administration, professional development, extra curricula activities and playground duties. So be realistic with your expectations around response time. Likewise, if you’re making contact early in term 1, remember, the teacher is still building new relationships and getting to know their students.

What are some questions you can ask your child’s teacher early in the school year?

It’s a good idea to have planned questions for when you contact the teacher. Questions should focus not just on how your child is performing in class, but also how they are engaging in class socially and emotionally. It’s also useful to have questions around how you can support their learning at home. I’d like to share with 10 useful questions that cover these areas.

1. What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?

In order to leverage your child’s strengths and improve on their weaknesses, you as a parent first need to know them, may it be academically or socially. This will allow you to help your child grow and boosts their self-confidence.

2. Is my child organised for class?

Being organised deeply affects learning. Weak organisation skills may affect your child’s ability to store and retrieve information. Gaining insight into how organised they are in class may reflect their general organisation skills. Remember, the school day starts at home first, so finding out this information may help you to develop these skills at home as well.

3. How do you assess my child’s progress?

Knowing how teachers assess your child’s progress and development is essential to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met. At home, you can help your child with the various forms of assessment whether it be examination preparation or help with researching an assignment or presentation of an oral task.

4. Does my child need any extra help for a particular subject?

It is very important to know whether your child finds a particular subject difficult or having a pretty hard time understanding it. This will help you decide on which next action to take. Whether it be providing support at home or perhaps engaging other services such as Cluey Learning to provide that focused and targeted support to help your child succeed in a subject.

5. How does my child interact with others during group work in class and in the playground?

Social skills play a very important role in a child’s emotional health and well-being, that’s why it is extremely significant to know how your child interacts with others.

6. Is there anything I can do at home to support my child?

Knowing every possible action to take that will help your child excel is one of the key things that you should prioritise as parents. Whether it be help with their organisation skills, providing guidance in how to understand or where to find information to help their understanding, locating resources or support for their learning or simply your encouragement and presence in their learning at home, all these make a big difference in supporting their learning in the classroom. Remember, support at home is not always related to their learning. Check in daily on your child’s wellbeing, how they are feeling, what’s happening in their friendship groups. Providing emotional support at home is just as important if not more so in ensuring your child’s engagement at school.

7. Are my child’s assignments completed on time and accurately?

This will help you monitor their assignment habits and motivate them to do it on time and accurately. As previously mentioned, many schools produce assessment schedule documents and make use of parent portals and mobile phone school applications to share this information with parents. Get familiar with these, print them out and put them somewhere of notice like on the fridge or pin board in the study or other location where your child completes their work at home.

8. What is my child’s behaviour like in the classroom?

To manage your child’s character and behaviour, you first need to know what they are like when they are in school. Be open minded when it comes to this question. Students do not always behave the same way at school as they do at home. Remember, working with your child’s teacher is a partnership and is always in the best interest of your child.

9. Have they been doing much reading in class, and do you have a booklist for their age and ability?

The importance of reading cannot be emphasised enough in young children especially, and parents need to make every day reading a high priority.

10. What is the best way to contact you?

As previously mention, to maintain smooth communication, get acquainted, and show your interest. This will help you strengthen the parent-teacher partnership and will be an important part of your child’s success in school.

Parent-teacher meetings

Schools generally have two parent teacher evenings per year. These are short meetings with your child’s teacher that can run between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the school. Scheduled times must be adhered to, so it’s important to make the most of this time in your meeting with the teacher. If these evenings occur after a reporting period, bring a hard copy of your child’s report to discuss any academic progress issues.

The teacher will generally give an overview of your child’s progress both academically and socially and may show you samples of their work. Where possible, prepare by having a good understanding of your child’s results in their school report or assessments completed prior to the evening. Aside from gaining more insight into how your child is progressing, this is great opportunity to engage in dialogue around how you can further support your child at home to maximise their success in the classroom. Use this time with the teacher to not just focus on what has happened, but moving forward, what you can do to help with improving or maintaining your child’s success. Remember, you generally only have 5-10 minutes for these meeting, so be prepared with your questions.

Finally, some last-minute tips from a former Deputy Principal

  • Be present – Attend parent-teacher nights as it creates a connection and demonstrates your commitment to your child’s education. If you can’t attend, send a note or email just to say hello. You never want all of your contact to just be related to concerns. Volunteering, even once, is a powerful relationship builder. If you can’t volunteer, you might ask about participating in other ways.

  • Remember emotional dividends – Teachers do what they do because they enjoy working with children, are passionate about a subject and want to make a difference. Many teachers routinely work at such a high level that we sometimes forget they are already going well beyond job requirements. Consequently, they often respond to emotional dividends. One of the most motivating things a teacher experiences is feeling successful and appreciated. This can be done with a quick email acknowledging extra effort, or a longer note detailing how they made a difference. It’s difficult to overstate the power such notes have to energise and motivate.

  • Prepare your child to learn – Helping your child be prepared to learn each day is one of the best ways to help a teacher. Making sure your child has a good night’s rest, a healthy breakfast, and weather-suitable clothing helps the teacher by keeping distractions and disruptions to a minimum. Well-rested, well-fed, and comfortable kids will be more ready to learn, listen, and engage.

  • Homework – Where your child’s school has a homework policy, you can help your child’s teacher by supporting the classroom homework. Homework is often sent home to either reinforce skills learned in the classroom or help the teacher gauge a child’s understanding of presented material. Homework also helps develop responsibility. Set aside time each day for your child to work on it and help create an environment conducive to working and learning. Offer help and check for understanding and mistakes, but never do your child’s homework for them.

  • Communicate with the teacher – Keeping your child’s teacher in the loop is critical. If you have concerns, don’t wait until the next parent-teacher meeting – request a special meeting. If something is going on at home or in your child’s personal life that could affect them at school, let the teacher know. Understanding what is going on at home can help a teacher make better use of school resources, as well as provide insight about behaviours, patterns, and challenges observed and the need to seek and give further support where needed.

Remember, positive connections between parents and teachers have been shown to improve children’s academic achievement, social competencies, and emotional well-being. When parents and teachers work as partners, children do better in school and at home.

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