From the first day you put your preschooler on the bus until the day he or she graduates from high school, communication with school is central to understanding your child’s progress. For most parents, communication with teachers is reserved primarily for formal conferences. Parents of children with special needs, however, often seek more regular communication with teachers. The stakes are simply higher when a child experiences academic or social challenges. Sometimes, parents’ emotion or passion can be misperceived as misplaced aggression or lack of confidence, when in fact their intention was simply to help facilitate growth and progress.
Whether you are the parent of a typically developing child or a child with special needs, here are a few tips for establishing a positive rapport with teachers based on honest and regular communication:
Be Mindful of Optimal Modes of Communication: While emails are wonderful ways of asking quick, simple questions, if you have a complicated matter to discuss, set up a time to talk on the phone. Your tone, which will be apparent in a phone call, might be misconstrued in an email, leading to misunderstanding and frustration.
Be Positive and Proactive: Just as you appreciate a teacher’s “out of the blue” call with good news, teachers also appreciate positive feedback. Communication from parents that demonstrates optimism and desire to be true partners in a child’s education builds a solid basis of understanding. Short notes to the teacher go a long way in building that positive rapport.
Use “I” Statements: When addressing a concern, try to use “I” statements, such as, “I am confused about the expectations for the research project,” instead of “You” statements such as “You did not explain the expectations for the project well.” This might seem awkward and difficult to do, but it gets easier with practice and promotes positive and successful partnerships.
Be Organized and Prepared: Take the time to organize your thoughts before reaching out to your child’s teacher. Whatever the issue at hand, your discussion will be much more productive if you come prepared. Presenting a number of solutions and brainstorming with the teacher regarding the best course of action will help build trust and a stronger working relationship.
Give the Benefit of the Doubt: One of my child’s teachers once told us at Back to School Night that she would not believe everything our kids told her about what happens at home, and in turn she asked that we not believe everything they say happens in school. While it certainly got a good laugh out of the crowd, it also served as an important reminder that children aren’t always the most reliable reporters. It is important to be open-minded and hear all perspectives.
Probably the most important thing to remember is that both you and your child’s teachers have the same goal: to help your child learn and grow. Together, as partners, you can help your child soar.
Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs is the Dean of SINAI Schools. SINAI operates several inclusive special education schools throughout northern New Jersey for Jewish children Grades 1-12, as well as programs for adults with developmental disabilities.