When my son started kindergarten in our local public school, I felt completely shut out of his school day. I sent him off on the bus each morning, and he was sealed up inside a locked, secure building all day. Parents couldn’t just drop by and peek in like you could at our little preschool.
I was desperate for information!
It didn’t help that Liam wasn’t too communicative at that age.
Slowly, over the course of that year, and the next two, I’ve figured out how to unlock the school “doors”.
My background as a middle school teacher has helped. I already knew how busy, even overwhelmed, teachers can be. Always be considerate of teachers’ time. They have to communicate with many, many other parents.
I also already knew that teachers are professionals. They probably keep a log of communications with parents. They adhere to professional ethics regarding confidentiality. They try to treat all students equally, regardless of parent involvement.
But teachers are also human.
If you make yourself more approachable, you’re going to get more informal communications from them. And that’s the good stuff! I’m talking about the quick comment about a minor challenge your child had, a funny thing he or she said, or a hint of what’s coming up next month.
If you’re like me, you want to know as much as possible while bothering the teachers the least. Here are 10 ways that have helped me get inside the school and really get to know my kids’ teachers and everything that goes on with my kids.
Volunteering is my favorite way to communicate with teachers. If you are at the school regularly, and are friendly, you’re right there and ready to listen.
2. Write a Sticky Note
If you have a simple, quick question about a paper that was sent home, jot it down on a sticky note. The idea is that you are saving the teacher time. You’re indicating that it’s an informal, quick question that does not need a more time-consuming reply. You’re more likely to get an answer the same day, maybe even on the back of your note.
3. Observe your child
I know, not all kids do well telling you about their day. But you can learn a lot by observation. I can tell you exactly how Isabella’s teacher introduces story time because at home that is how a group of stuffed animals is currently getting story time.
4. Pass the info along
You can also begin to train your child to relay information to the teacher. Start with non-essential messages!
5. Send a short email (with an informative subject line)
You’ll have to figure out the teacher’s preferred mode of communication. Some reply quickly to emails, others are more voicemail people. For email, keep it short. If you have something that can’t be said in a couple paragraphs, you probably need to talk by phone or in person. Send an email to set that up.
6. Text message
Let the teacher take the lead. Not all teachers will be receptive to texts, but if she has ever texted you, consider it a possibility. Don’t abuse it, though. Save texting for super quick messages that are important.
Unless it’s her conference time, you will get voicemail. She’s teaching! Don’t leave a rambling message – teachers have lots to do while the kids are not with her (attend meetings, prepare materials for lessons, complete paperwork, plan lessons, etc.) So if you do reach the teacher via phone, be considerate of her time.
8. Give tiny gifts – Make a human connection with a tiny gift. Are there beautiful flowers blooming in your yard? Cut one and tie a ribbon around it with a brief note of appreciation.
If you see an inexpensive item that seems to have the teacher’s name on it, pick it up for her. I’m not talking Christmas gifts here. You don’t want to look like you’re asking her to play favorites. I mean things like fun office supplies, stickers, or something your child has noticed she always runs out of (such as dry erase markers). Again, send it with a one-line note. The point is just opening a positive
line of communication.
9. Attend after-school functions – this is perhaps the best time to simply get to know your child’s teacher. Whether you’re standing around waiting for a PTA meeting to begin, or wandering around the school festival, this more relaxed time is a great window for an informal chat.
10. In-person conferences – I’m listing this last, which is where I think it belongs. Conferences are a once or twice a year event. They’re important, and you should know what will be discussed before you go into one.
Don’t be afraid to start off with a little small talk. Don’t think of it as a waste of time. It will help make you and the teacher more comfortable, and even help the teacher remember you among the hours of parent conferences.
My twins started kindergarten this fall. It’s been a completely different experience for me as a parent. I understand the workings of the school, know a lot of teachers and staff, and feel like I pretty much have all the information I want and need.
This school year, I’m thrilled to be working with a group of outstanding bloggers to address topics of interest to parents of public school students. Our topic this month is Communication. Check out all of these great posts:
7 Rookie Mom Reading Mistakes
Fun Fall Apple Tree Reading Log
This is a great list! I think volunteering definitely helps. It helps establish a good working relationship with the teacher. My oldest is in 3rd this year and I am trying to do more communicating through him.
Yes, a "good working relationship" is really the key to good communication with the school, isn't it! I've been working with my 3rd grader too on discussing small problems with his teacher, rather than me intervening on his behalf.
Great hints! I felt the same way when my first started school. As far as I could tell they just had recess all day! I'm going to give the sticky note idea a try.
Love the ideas. Especially the casual post it note!
Great advice! Our 4th graders have an agenda where teachers encouraged us to write notes for her, especially about early dismissal or special days.