With the school year just around the corner, you’ve no doubt written your list and checked it twice. Let’s take a look:
Missing a check mark by that last item?
Let’s take care of that right now. Why? Because developing a “partnership mindset” with your children’s schools is probably the single most important thing you can do to ensure your kids’ success.
So, what exactly is it?
A partnership mindset simply means you strive to be an advocate for your school-going children without being an adversary of their teachers or school administrators. It’s a commitment to developing a relationship with these influential professionals “based on trust, a shared vision and mutual respect.”
Easy enough, you say. Who doesn’t want to be respectful and trusting of teachers and the folks who run the schools? But a partnership mindset goes beyond civility and courtesy… all the way to advocacy. Here’s how you can make it happen.
5 Strategies for Developing a Partnership Mindset
1. Talk to teachers and administrators early…and as often as necessary
If your child has any special needs… learning differences… or simply a personality trait that could impact their school experience adversely, share it with his or her teacher within the first week or so of school. Don’t worry about poisoning the teacher’s expectations of your child. Remember the adage, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Giving teachers and administrators a heads-up about any possible issues actually gives your child an advantage.
By all means, when age appropriate, share this information with each new teachers with your child present. This helps demonstrate your family’s transparency, removes any stigma from the child’s mind (“If Mom says that about me as if it’s no big deal, it must be OK”), plus it communicates to the teacher that you’re doing everything you can to provide the support your child needs.
When your kid is old enough, let her tell the teacher herself.
Here’s my experience:
My middle child had a 504 plan. In grade school, she and I spoke to her teachers jointly. But by the time she got to high school, she was writing her own letter to her teacher outlining her needs, testifying to her strong work ethic and attaching the pertinent 504 recommendations. She finished her selective-enrollment high school as a straight-A student (just sayin’!).
If a teacher loses sight of your child’s particular needs? Don’t be shocked. If you had 30 kids, you’d occasionally forget something important, too. If issues arrive, simply remind the teacher in as kind and respectful a manner as possible.
2. Establish your expertise… and respect theirs
I have a B.A. in education and my M.Ed. I’ve been a teacher, a parent-educator, an educational therapist and am now a parenting coach. That’s NOT the expertise I led with when I met with my (now grown) children’s teachers, however.
I led with being their Mom. I’m a bona fide expert on my kids – as you are on yours. No matter how many valuable coaches or mentors or tutors our kids may have, no one knows our children as we do. No one. So establish yourself and your co-parent as the go-to folks for information on what makes your kid tick… or tock.
Conversely, most parents aren’t teachers or school administrators. These professionals have had a lot of education, love kids, and are extremely passionate about helping children learn. That’s awesome! You want all you can get of that for your children.
Still, there are times when you need to firmly advocate for your child around academic or other issues.
3. Do your part… and ensure your kids do theirs
Be sure teachers and administrators know – by your words and actions – that you are a family that cares about and is involved in your kids’ school experience.
Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence clearly show that when families are involved in their kids’ education, children do better across a variety of metrics. Until kids internalize good study skills – as well as the desire to succeed academically – parents need to provide plenty of external support. Teachers and educational specialists refer to this as scaffolding.
What might this look like at home?
· Provide prompts, guides and structure
o Dedicated place to study
o Carts stocked with school and art supplies
o Laminated lists that outline effective study techniques
o A solid wifi connection
· Model good performance and analytical thinking by doing it out loud
· Have your more advanced math son or daughter tutor a younger sibling
· Recognize your children’s growth moments
· Reframe self-defeating comments with self-promoting ones
o “I made a mistake” becomes “Mistakes help me improve”
o “This is too hard” becomes “This may take some time and effort”
· Make children accountable for study or instrument-practice time
As with home-building, educational scaffolding is essential to keeping your child’s external structure strong until they can internalize those skills and stand on their own. Neglect it at their expense.
4. Be respectful and grateful in every teacher interaction… remember, they’re “people” first
Teaching is a startling demanding profession with less-than-stellar remuneration (trust me, I’ve been there). And, like every other human on the planet, teachers have bad days.
Given their occasional missteps – and no doubt, your kids’ flub-ups – there will be multiple “opportunities” for tête à têtes with teachers.
Communication is key, so here are some guidelines:
· Begin every teacher conversation by expressing your gratitude and respect for the work they do for their students, including yours
o Why be antagonistic to someone who has such a huge impact on your child in the course of the year?
· Don't be one of those parents that teachers dread hearing from, who generally find exception to every rule as far as their child is concerned
· Recognize that teachers are fallible – and give them a break when they deserve one
o If they made a mistake adding up a test score and you’d like them to amend it, simply show them the math and ask for a correction
· Don’t be defensive, blame, name-call or accuse; teachers try, but they don’t always get it right
o Remember…it’s crazy-easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when we think we are protecting or defending our kids!
· Use non-threatening language when talking to teachers… and encourage your kids to do the same
o A parent could say: “I’m having a hard time understanding what the purpose of this assignment is…can you help me?
o Your daughter in AP Literature could say: “I was really disappointed with my grade on the last paper. Can you give me some examples of ‘A’ work so I can better understand your expectations?”
· Close by reaffirming your support and confidence in the teacher
o Conduct the conversation as if you’re the teacher’s advocate, too, and everyone comes out a winner
5. Be accountable for your kids… (unless they’re perfect)
In generations past, parents typically responded to concerned calls from teachers with fury aimed at their misbehaving children. With the current generation, many teachers find themselves on the other end of the line with a furious parent who blames every problem on the schools, not their children.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
So if a teacher or administrator calls you about a serious problem – an abrupt change in behavior, a bullying accusation, suspected drug or alcohol use – how should you respond? CALMLY. Even if (especially when!) every bone in your body is screaming, “Not my kid!”
Fact is, why not your kid? Let’s face it, even “good” kids can be disrespectful, make poor choices and even cause harm on occasion. So always ask yourself, What might be my child’s role in this?
Actually, the teacher is no doubt as concerned about your child as you are, and may have some insights to offer you. Try, “What do you think is going on that is causing my son to express himself this way?” You may be surprised at how much they can help.
Ultimately, teachers, administrators and parents are partners working toward a common goal. As long as we keep that in mind with every interaction, we can all serve our children better.