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How to Effectively Communicate with Your Child’s School



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During my three years at Hazlehurst Middle School, I facilitated countless parent-teacher conferences and served on many Individual Education Plan (IEP) committees. Because a child’s education is extremely important, all parties involved in these emotional meetings have very strong opinions. I have seen parents become confrontational in parent-teacher conferences, believing their child has been mistreated. Other parents criticize administrators, including the superintendent and principal. If, however, parents felt confident about participating in the school setting, the tension in these difficult emotional meetings could be diffused.

Most African American parents find it difficult to balance work, a family, and their child’s schooling. In my first book, Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap, I discuss the benefits of effectively communicating with your child’s teacher. They offer tips that will help parents avoid common misunderstandings and strengthen school-parent relationships. If you are part of a growing segment of African American parents who feel uncomfortable visiting their child’s schools, remember that your tax dollars are used to pay for your child’s education; you might as well check up on your investment.

If you didn’t have pleasant experiences when you were in school, having to visit a school environment may feel uncomfortable. When you initially meet your child’s teacher, you should approach the conference with a clear mind, seeking first to understand and then to be understood. Your child’s teacher should be viewed as a valuable ally who, like you, wants to see your child succeed.

Although voicing concerns to you child’s teacher may not be an easy task, it can strengthen the parent-teacher relationship and make future decisions or situations easier for you to understand and solve. When it comes to your children, it is almost impossible to remain objective because of your emotional attachment. If you feel that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, you must choose whether or not it is a good idea to confront your child’s teacher. Before deciding, you should try to resolve the issue by first speaking to your child, making sure that you have all of the facts. Your child may be able to resolve the issue with his teacher alone, using you as a last resort.

A good teacher will encourage parent involvement and will go to great lengths to foster this type of partnership. When you effectively communicate with your child’s school, your child’s academic success will be positively affected.

Remember to empathize with a teacher’s plight. They are underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. They are expected to perform with a limited amount of resources, supplies, and assistance. True, they have holidays and summers off, but that is well deserved. Can you imagine being in a classroom everyday with 25–30 kids? Today’s teachers are expected to perform more magic tricks than David Copperfield, and with the enactment of No Child Left Behind, they are under the gun to help your child succeed.

Trying to work with a parent who is convinced that the child is a perfect angel can be unbearable. If you come to a parent-teacher conference with this mindset, you are setting yourself and your child up for failure.

Parent Conferences: The First Meeting
The first time you meet your child’s teacher will be of the utmost importance. You must make sure to make a good impression because it may determine how your child is treated for the remainder of the year. Showing your child’s teacher that you are very concerned about his education goes a long way in today’s schools.

Setting up the Conference
When setting up a parent-teacher conference with you child’s teacher, make sure you agree upon a time of day when neither of you will be hurried. Treat the conference the same way you would a professional meeting or a job interview. By being prepared for your parent-teacher conference, you have already assured success. Make a list of questions for your child’s teacher and bring the list with you.

The Traditional Conference
Your child spends about 180 days with their teachers. You must know how to effectively participate in the meeting in order to help your child succeed in school. The following tips will help ensure that your conference is productive:
  1. Leave your personal feelings at the door, and be ready to engage in one of the most important meetings you will ever attend.
  2. Speak calmly with your child’s teacher. Do not criticize him or her in front of your child.
  3. Listen carefully at the meeting, and don’t hesitate to say what’s on your mind.
  4. Brace yourself for the possibility of bad news. Ask your teacher not to "sugarcoat" any of your child’s negative habits.
  5. Discuss the conference with your child afterwards. Give her the pros and cons of her performance, and list the corrective measures that will be taken to help her function at an optimal level.
Parent support groups like the PTA (Parent Teachers Association) provide workshops and seminars for parents. You can discover how to increase your involvement in the school as well as learn how to foster positive relationships with your child’s teachers.

Student Led Conferencing
If you are lucky enough to be working with a truly progressive teacher, they may tell you that your child will be giving you a student led conference. Student led conferences have been getting rave reviews from teachers across the country. When juxtaposed against traditional parent-teacher conferences, most educators agree that student led conferences win hands down. This is how student led conferences usually work:
  1. At the beginning of the school year, the teacher helps students create a binder that will serve as their portfolio. This portfolio contains the students’ class assignments, homework, quizzes, tests, etc.
  2. A week prior to the conference, a letter is sent home to parents informing them that their child will lead a student-teacher conference.
  3. About three days before the conference, the teacher helps the student prepare a portfolio of her work, including a project, quizzes, and favorite assignment.
  4. The day prior to the conference, the student rehearses his presentation and makes any necessary changes.
  5. On the day of the conference, the student tells his teacher and parent(s) how he feels about his performance in school. His successes, failures, and plan for improvement are discussed.
One drawback to the student led conference is that if the parent doesn’t show up, the child feels a great deal of disappointment. You can imagine the pain a child would feel if, after spending all week preparing for the conference, the parent(s) doesn’t even show up.

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Matthew LynchAbout The Author - Matthew Lynch   All Articles By This Author
Matthew Lynch is an Exceptional Education Teacher, owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC and a Doctoral Candidate at Jackson State University. He is also the author of Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap, and children's book, Matthew and the Money Tree. Lynch is a contributing columnist for Renaissance Man Magazine, Bahiyah Women's Magazine and Emerging Minds Magazine, etc. Born and raised in Hazlehurst, MS, Lynch currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi. Visit his blog at www.matthews-musings.blogspot.com.

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