How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher: The Key to More Productive Communication

Introduction

Principal's Presentation

Scenarios for discussion

 

Introduction

What prompted this workshop on How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher?

Goal of this workshop

Participants

Jennifer Monaco, Murray Avenue Principal
Cruz Soler, Murray Avenue Assistant Principal
Dara Lepofsky, Murray Avenue School Psychologist
Joan Stern, Teacher, 2nd grade
Joan Staudinger, Teacher, 4th grade
Bernadette Mannion, Teacher, Kindergarten

Presentation by Principal Jennifer Monaco

I. What Parents Should Expect From Teachers

II. What Teachers Should Expect From Parents

 

III. EMAIL: How to Use It Effectively

IV. Parent-Teacher Meetings/Conference

V. Who Do I Speak to When I have a Question or a Concern Specific to My Child?

 

VI. Who Do I Speak to When I Have a General Question or a Concern (Example: about curriculum, school policy?)

 

Discussion Groups
After Ms. Monaco’s presentation, parents broke into six groups, each one joined by either a teacher or administrator. Each group was presented with a parent-teacher “scenario” and asked to discuss how communication could or should proceed. Here are the scenarios and the discussion points that followed.

Scenario 1
Scenario 2
Scenario 3
Scenario 4
Scenario 5
Scenario 6

 

Scenario 1

PARENT:  “I really feel like my child’s teacher doesn’t like him. He’s a fine student and doesn’t really get into trouble, but he seems to have lost his enthusiasm for school and seems very wary of his teacher. I sense that she doesn’t appreciate his sense of humor--she doesn’t really get him.”

DISCUSSION POINTS:
  1. Be patient; teachers need time getting to know your child
  2. They also might need help; some teachers ask you to write about your child at beginning of school year
  3. Remember that the beginning of each school year is a time of transition for all
  4. Go directly to teacher; do not discuss with other parents
  5. Sit down with teacher, face-to-face
  6. Be honest with teacher, but suspend judgment

 

Scenario 2

TEACHER: “One parent is very convinced that her child is extremely bright for her age but from my perspective the child is smart, but pretty average in the mix. Do I let the parent know? And if so, how do I do that? When a parent says to me, ‘How does my son or daughter compare to the rest of the class?’ what are they asking? And are they prepared for the real answer?”

DISCUSSION POINTS:

  1. Feedback from teachers may seem vague, especially in lower grades
  2. Teacher should provide concrete examples of progress
  3. Teacher should also make grade-level expectations very clear to parents
  4. Discussion should focus on individual child’s progress in light of those expectations
  5. Clear goals should be set
  6. Discussion should not focus on comparisons to other children or siblings

Scenario 3

PARENT: “I don’t feel that my child is being challenged. It’s already January, and I’d spoken to the teacher about this at the November conference. My child seems bored. I don’t really see how ‘differentiation’ works for bright kids.”

DISCUSSION POINTS:

  1. Best to send brief email to teacher to express concerns and set up a meeting; do not wait for spring conference
  2. Drop-off is not the time to talk to teacher
  3. At meeting, teacher can show evidence of work done in classroom
  4. Teacher should also discuss what is being done in the classroom to make work more challenging
  5. Understand that scheduling a meeting may take longer if additional support staff members (e.g., school psychologist) are involved

Scenario 4

TEACHER: “A parent comes to the spring conference very eager to discuss placement. She is very polite and it is clear she has given this a lot of thought. She says, ‘I know I’m not supposed to say this, but...’ and then goes on to talk about why one of my colleagues would be a very bad fit for her daughter. Her reasons are based on what she’s heard, not personal experience.”

DISCUSSION POINTS:

  1. Spring conference is not the time to discuss placement
  2. Placement is a very complicated process
  3. Respect the teacher’s view of your child: Understand that children can behave differently at home than at school
  4. Respect placement recommendations; don’t buy into “rumors” or “hearsay” (i.e., how one teacher suited a friend’s child may have no bearing on how that teacher would be for your child)
  5. It makes a teacher feel uncomfortable if you make negative comments about a colleague
  6. If you’ve had a previous experience with a teacher and you do not want to have her/him again, just say that; explanation is not needed
  7. Try to trust in the process
  8. NOTE: Principal Jennifer Monaco is hoping to follow up this Communications workshop with one on The Placement Process for parents

 

Scenario 5

PARENT: “My child told me about something that happened in school yesterday, a disagreement between him and another child. It seems that my child lost a class privilege because of the incident and he was pretty upset. So I emailed the teacher. The teacher responded, saying that there’s been a misunderstanding. The story she relayed was entirely different, and now, ‘rest assured, everything was fine,’ she said.”

DISCUSSION POINTS:

  1. Parent needs to find out more: What was the misunderstanding? Did the teacher witness the incident? Was there, in fact, a privilege withheld?
  2. Parent’s email warrants a conversation; teacher should have arranged a meeting or phone call (or at least offered)
  3. Parent should send teacher a return email to set up meeting
  4. Age of child matters, as well as the specifics of the incident
  5. Make sure child feels supported, even if he got the facts wrong
  6. Teach child to advocate for himself and to speak with the teacher to explain his side of the story
  7. Parent, teacher and child should get together to bring closure to the situation and to validate feelings

Scenario 6

PARENT: “I think my child is slipping through the cracks. At all the conferences, the teachers show me she’s making progress, but she just doesn’t seem to hold onto information. She’s not that talkative, and not very organized. The teachers assure me she’s fine, a little young in the class, a little immature...but no red flags. I’m feeling like there’s something wrong with my child and no one sees it but me.”

DISCUSSION POINTS:

  1. This can be very uncomfortable for parents -- not trusting the process
  2. Do not wait for conferences; set up a meeting with teacher
  3. Important to raise specific concerns with teacher to determine strategies
  4. Parent can provide examples of work done by child at home – may differ from level of work done at school
  5. Teacher may suggest scheduling a meeting with in-building Instructional Support Team
  6. School can do formal assessments of child
  7. Important to keep open communication between school and home