We’re almost three weeks into the school year – does anybody else feel like time is flying? We sure do! Hopefully by now the children have eased into learning mode, new knowledge is being effectively built up, and all is well in the world.
Until the time comes for a parents’ evening.
On paper, it should be easy – after all, both you and your child’s teacher have the same goal in mind, which is helping your child to succeed. But sometimes misunderstandings happen, and it can sometimes be the case that the teacher has a different plan on getting to that goal than you might. (And if your action plans happen to coincide, GREAT! You’re in for an amazing year.)
Whatever the case, it’s important to establish a good dialogue with teachers, so, as parents as well as educators, here are our Dos and Don’ts for those first face-to-face meetings:
DO ask the teacher questions. Sometimes (especially for new teachers) it can be difficult to articulate everything they wanted to say. In cases such as these, having a few concrete queries can help the conversation flow.
DO talk about things that concern you. If you read an article in the Daily Mail about how the curriculum is getting more demanding and you worry about your children being overloaded, tell the teacher. It’s likely that they’ve considered this already in depth with their colleagues and will be able to allay your concerns.
DON’T make assumptions that last year’s action plan is still on. Teachers change schools. Budgets get revised. The Ofsted report said the school was a couple of points short of being “Outstanding” so now everyone must Work Harder! and restore honour. None of this means that your kids will get worse tutoring, or that the teachers won’t try to make that very neat idea from last year happen in some shape or form. Keep an open mind to change – after all, the end goal remains the same.
DO ask about the best way to help your kids from home. We all want what’s best for our children, and the teachers come only second to you in knowing their individual strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your daughter needs to work more on her spelling. Maybe she’s on top of her class and doesn’t need to do anything in that area. It’s always a question work asking.
DON’T ask the same question again and again. If the teacher already gave an answer you didn’t like, repeating the enquiry won’t change it. If they don’t have an answer immediately, assume it’s because they’re working on a solution and they want to be sure on it on their end before they bring it up with you. Again, keep the end goal in mind.
DO arrange for a follow-up, if there is no time to discuss everything. In business, a major factor contributing to goal-keeping is having regular check-ins between team members. The same logic applies to school. If the teacher can’t discuss everything with you at the moment, exchange numbers and arrange for a good time to call. (And call exactly when agreed upon. And set up an agenda beforehand. If you say you need five minutes to discuss your son’s latest test, then make sure the conversation lasts four and a half. This allows you to cut the frills and see the point of the matter.)
DON’T demand a point-by-point discussion of the school budget. Even if you’re on the governing committee and the teacher in question is in charge of finance, a parent-teacher conference is not the place to have this talk. If the teacher brings up the plans for buying iPads, then by all means, ask them about details – they have likely anticipated the questions and prepared in advance. (Or, alternatively, if you think it’s a neat idea to buy the children iPads, and if there’s time, you may bring it up on the condition you and the teacher agree on a follow-up conversation. They would likely need to do their research first.) But don’t put anyone on the spot – it hardly sets the grounds for a happy relationship.
DO celebrate the children’s (all of the children’s) successes. While we’re all anxious to solve any issues that may arise, focusing on the negative can take away from the joy of the positives. Take the time to congratulate the teacher on a school project they supervised, or to say how much your kids enjoyed their summer learning project. If the teacher brings up plans to innovate at the school which you like, say so, and if you can spare it, volunteer to help out. (Even if they don’t need extra hands. The gesture counts.)
What are your dos and don’ts about communicating? Are there any tips you’d like to share?