The two-way street between home and school

Here’s what happens when parents are informed and active in their children’s academic lives: students are more motivated and experience more success; parents connect with their children in new ways; and teachers and schools develop a collaborative relationship with parents. In short, everyone wins. Parental involvement, in fact, is encouraged by the National PTA (www.pta.org) and teacher professional groups such as the International Reading Association (www.reading.org) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (www.nctm.org).

It goes without saying that the better your relationship is with your child’s teacher and school, the more positive your child’s school experience will be. Because homework is part of your child’s school experience, it’s wise to make that relationship a two-way street. Following are some suggestions for accomplishing this:

Talk to your children about school.
Ask your child to tell you about what happens during the day. What does your child like best about school? What does she like least about it? The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be if problems arise.

Plan to meet with your child’s teacher at least three times during the school year.
Commmunicate your willingness to cooperate with the teacher. Don’t wait for a personal invitation; an open house (most schools hold them annually) is an excellent opportunity to have a brief conversation. If you need more time, make an appointment.

Learn about the homework policy for the school district, school and class.
Some school districts have homework policies that schools and individual teacherss are required to follow. Such policies determine how much homework students should receive. In other districts, individual schools and/or teachers are responsible for setting their own homework policies. Find out about the policies that affect your child. Ask how often homework is assigned, when it is assigned, and how homework will affect your child’s grade. Also, learn about what support for homework is available through Web sites sponsored by your district, school, and/or classroom teacher.

Learn about your child’s teacher
Dr Linda Blanton, an expert in special education, recommends that parents take time at the beginning of the school year to learn about their child’s teacher. She suggests finding out if the teacher is certified and areas of certification. With current teacher shortages, many teachers are teaching out of their field. Parents should be informed about this. Find out how long your child’s teacher has been teaching and whether he or she graduated from an accredited teacher education institution. The National Council for the Accredition of Teacher Education is the most prestigious of these accreditation organizations. Your child’s principal can provide this information.

Learn about the curriculum at your child’s school.
What is your child being taught? How is she being taught? Many schools provide parents with written summaries of the curriculum. In other schools, teachers describe hte curriculum during parent meetings or open houses. Ask whether this information is provided as a matter of course; if it isn’t tell the teacher you’d  appreciate having it. Learn about what your child is learning.

Find out how you will be informed about your child’s progress.
Will children bring papers home on a weekly basis? What dates are report cards issued? Will you receive updates between report cards? Does your school have an online gradebook with parental access?

Act quickly if you suspect that a problem exists.
Tell the teacher that you want to meet, and make an appointment as soon as possible. Don’t just show up unannounced! Spur-of-the-moment conferences translate into incomplete information. They aren’t fair to you, the teacher, or your child.

Sometimes a teacher will notice a problem before the parents do. Typically, a teacher will initiate communication by sending a note home with the child or emailing you. Be sure to respond, either with a phone call or with a note of your own. Depending on the nature of the problem, you may want to schedule a conference to discuss it.

If your child is having difficulties doing schoolwork, make sure there are no hidden physical causes. A visit to your pediatrician, opthalmologist, or audiologist can uncover any that might exist.

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