Family & Education

How to be the best-behaved parent in class


For youngsters, big and small, the new school year is full of promise. Friendships waiting to be formed; new areas of learning to be explored; slightly too big uniform and shiny shoes not yet worn in and - most exciting, or perhaps most daunting, of all - new teachers. For parents, too, forming relationships with teachers can be intimidating.

"You don't want to be over-friendly or worse, seem remote," says Melanie Canter, mother of three primary-aged children. "Even calling another adult by the title 'Mr' or 'Mrs' catapults you back to being little yourself. You go from a nursery situation where you literally know what time your child goes to the toilet to knowing very little. Often the only information I have now is what remains in their lunch boxes and half the time what is left wasn't what I put in there to start with but is from another child."

As time goes on, parents often report feeling less important in their children's school lives. But whatever your child's age, there are significant benefits to having good relationships between parents and teachers.

Contact details

Find out if your child's school has a policy on home-school communication. When you meet your child's teachers early in the autumn term, ask how staff prefer to receive communication from parents. Similarly, advise the school office on the best way to contact you.

Communication counts

Email may be ideal for advising a school that your child is unwell, needs to be picked up early or to convey a thank you for a concert. However, if something is worrying you, a meeting with the teacher may be more appropriate. If you need to email a concern, be considered in what you write. Ideally wait 24 hours before pressing "send" - you may feel differently in the morning. Avoid using social media to discuss teachers or school issues.

Maximise meeting time

If you have asked for a meeting, organise your thoughts carefully in advance, writing down what you want to find out and discuss. A quick, friendly email beforehand to advise the teacher on the main areas you want to cover can be helpful. If you feel nervous about attending a meeting alone, ask if you can bring someone with you.

Share information

Confidentially sharing anything important happening at home with your child's teacher - for example, bereavement, illness, weddings or divorce - can be very helpful. Teachers may need to take this information into account when working with your child. Something which seems quite small to you may have a significant impact on your child. If you have any difficulties that prevent you supporting your child, for example with homework or coming into school, let your child's teacher know.

Work together

Perhaps you feel your child is an able reader who would benefit from bringing home two reading books a week, rather than one; or your child has been placed in a lower maths set than seems justified. First, take a step back. If your child is happy at school and progressing, is intervention truly needed? If you remain concerned, take an inquiring rather than critical approach to find out the reasoning behind the school decisions. Phrases such as: "I was a bit uncertain about why…" may be helpful. Be solution-focused; ask how you and the school may work together to help your child.

Special needs

If your child has specific difficulties at school, contact the special needs co-ordinator (SENCo) early in the school year. Emphasise how you want to work with the school to assist them and your child. If your child needs additional support, request a timetable of what is in place and find out what the focus of the support is. If your child struggles with homework, ask what help can be arranged. It can be useful for parents to understand how the school monitors children's progress and how often meetings can take place to review this. It may be appropriate to ask if the form teacher can also attend meetings.

Get involved

(but not too much)

Find out ways that you and your family can support your child's school, such as volunteering on the PTA, being a governor, helping with special events or hearing children read. However, do not be ever-present in your child's school life - letting your child develop their own relationships at school, independent of you, is also important.

Share good news

Teaching is a wonderful job but there is little direct feedback from parents and children. Do not wait until the end of the year to convey your appreciation to teachers. Let them know throughout the year when things are going well.

Dr Susanna Pinkus is an education specialist and consultant for the Dukes Education Group and the author of 'How to Create a Parent-Friendly School'

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