Advocating for your child at school, and a puzzle (!)

This is a section of the puzzle you can work by clicking here. My thanks to “Walkin’, Writin’, Wit, and Whimsy” for the photo. Click the link at the bottom to see more of her delightful blog and photos.

I don’t know any families who make it all the way through school without having to clarify or resolve one or more issues. Knowing when to act, where to go, and what to say can be challenging ~ and, yet, can make all the difference in achieving a successful outcome for your child. This post looks at putting together the puzzle of effective advocacy.

1 — The best advocacy begins before there is a problem. The start of the new school year is the perfect time to meet your child’s teacher(s). Get acquainted, share a little about your child’s learning style and interests, make yourself available to help in whatever way fits your schedule and abilities, and ask how and when each teacher prefers to communicate. E-mail? Phone call? Drop in? Scheduled appointment? Before school? After school? Is the teacher open to classroom visits?

If you create a friendly, open relationship from the start and then make every effort to fit into teachers’ daily rhythm, future problem solving will be much easier.

2 — “Read” your child every day. If the home life is happy, reliable, safe, and supportive; and the child is healthy, and yet comes home from school upset, I look to the school environment for possible problems.

Does your child come home in a good mood, confident, and communicative? Or worn out, discouraged, quiet, frustrated? In the morning, although not all children hop out of bed eager to go to school, is your child ready and willing to tackle another day at school? Does your child talk about having friends, making new friends? Is there a conflict with another student? Is work organized in the backpack or shoved in hurriedly? Is graded work meeting expectations, and improving?

(Side note: I encourage parents to look at the contents of the backpack every day and discuss it with children. This is literally your child’s “job,” so it’s important that there is ownership and progress. Can your child teach you the lesson? If so, there is mastery! Well done by the teacher, well done by the child. Is there enthusiasm? Pride of accomplishment? If not, the lesson fell short that day. On the other hand, was the lesson too easy? Is your child bored at school? There may be a need for more/other teaching-and-learning opportunities.)

Poor grades, unhappy mood, boredom, a sense of isolation, discouragement, and ongoing reluctance to go to school are signs a child isn’t thriving at school. Talk with your child, do what you can at home to reassure, encourage, change the home work/eat/play/sleep schedule, and otherwise discover and problem solve issues. Is the work too hard? Too much? Too little? Is your child missing you and home? Go the extra mile in creating a sweet sense of home at school if needed, such as a special lunch and a little note in the lunch box, and a favorite treat or activity to look forward to together after school, etc. If there isn’t an improvement very soon, don’t hesitate to ask for a meeting at school.

3 — Ask around, discreetly. No school likes to see disgruntled parents gathering at drop-off and pick-up to complain and criticize. This will not make it easy for you to work with the teachers and administration. However, quietly getting a sense of whether other children in your class are having the same problems is helpful. Not all teachers and students are good fits, and not every teacher has a good year every year. See if anyone else is having the same issues. And of course, while you can be sympathetic if your child criticizes the teacher, don’t join in.

4 — At some point, you’ll probably need to meet with the teacher. I believe this meeting should just be the adults. The point of this meeting is to get information. Find out what the teacher knows. Frame questions “based on the teacher’s experience,” rather than coming in with a combative attitude. Show respect. Have something good to say. Everyone needs encouragement. It may be the teacher is frustrated too. Be ready to share what you know objectively, and demonstrate that you are willing to do your part to help your child. The spirit of this meeting is to help your child be successful, not criticize the teacher. That’s really what everyone wants. Make it a partnership for the benefit of your child. You’re a team.

Example questions, 4th grade parent, about a month into school. “Thank you so much for meeting me. How do you think the class is going this year?” … “I wanted to let you know that Christy has to spend at least two hours on homework every day, and see if that is your expectation or if there is something else going on. Is the work at her level? Is she spending her class time efficiently? I know she sits in the back — can she see the board? Honestly, evenings are becoming emotional at home.” … “Based on your experience teaching, and with what you know of Christy so far, do you have any suggestions? I know she likes you, and is usually a happy child. Fourth grade has been a big change for us.” … “OK. Thank you. We will set up a regular work station at home; I’ll help her manage her time at home so she gets her work done earlier, and we’ll keep track of how much she is able to do in the one hour you expect. Then, could we talk again in a couple of weeks?” Objective. Positive. Respectful.

5 — A child’s success is often so dependent on successful adult relationships. Try to get along with the teachers. Start off positively, get involved, be supportive, and show respect. But, what if your advocacy and intervention don’t help and issues with the teacher can’t be resolved? Consider requesting that your child be moved to a different class. Also, know your mind in case the school recommends a treatment intervention you don’t want. And if your next steps involve the principal and parent-teacher organization, or even school board, be sure to document all contacts while continuing to be objective and respectful. Your child needs you. And you can do it!

My thanks to “Walkin’, Writin’, Wit, & Whimsy” for the puzzle picture. See more of her delightful blog and photos here.


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