Well, you’re about to know how old I am. In the fall, in addition to dreaming of apple dumplings and crisp nights at a football game, I always think of a quote from You’ve Got Mail–a movie from the late 90’s, starring (who else?) Meg Ryan.
The main character tells Meg that he would love to send her “a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils.” Doesn’t that perfectly capture the excitement of fall and back to school? A newly sharpened pencil is so full of promise.
And if there’s anything that rivals a newly sharpened pencil for promise, it’s Back-to-School Night. The classrooms are all shiny, the parents are nervous and hopeful, the children are proud and the teachers are confident. The air is charged with optimism as you walk in to meet the teacher for the first time.
I wrote recently about how establishing a personal relationship with your child’s teacher is the single most important thing you can do to help your child do well in school. So as you walk into that shiny classroom to meet your child’s teacher, here are a couple of important questions that can start that very important relationship off on the right foot:
- What is the best way to contact you?
The most important thing you want the teacher to know is that you want to work with him or her. Working together requires communication and communication requires some logistics. Take the lead and see what works best for them–email, text, or a voicemail. Let the teacher know that you have high expectations for your child and want to hear about any issues in the classroom quickly.
But, let’s be honest, the thing you would really love to hear is a positive message and that your child is doing well. Lead by example by sending the first positive message. “I really enjoyed meeting you and can’t wait to work together to help _____ have a great year!”
- What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
This may seem like a strange question. But there’s an old adage in teaching that “students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” The same can be said of any relationship. You want to build a foundation of mutual respect and friendly engagement. So–break the ice a little and show you care about the teacher as a person, too.
No, you’re not looking for a new BFF. But you are looking for someone you can work well with. Imagine if you were working with a team of people at work or church or some other volunteer organization on an important project. As adults, you would chit chat a little. You would naturally find some ways to connect so you could work better together. That’s what adult colleagues do. You and your child’s teachers are adult colleagues, working on a very important project together.
But this is not just about building a relationship between adults. This trickles down to children, too. For example, a few years back my daughter was crazy about softball and not as crazy about going to school. When we coincidentally sat by her teacher at a local baseball game and found out she was an outfielder in an adult softball league, it helped my daughter feel at home in her classroom. Literally, that’s all it took. My daughter was like, “Oh–she has a softball mitt, so, I like school now.”
- Can you show me some student work so I can see what we’re going for this year? I’m not sure what good ____th grade writing looks like.
This last question may be a stretch for some teachers. If your child attends a school where student work is not regularly celebrated or shared, teachers may not have many examples for you to look at. But asking this question may help start a tradition of looking at student work in your school. And at the very least, it will start a conversation about what good work looks like that will save you many hours of frustration as you sit down to help your child with his or her homework.
I cannot stress enough how important looking at student work is. Think of it like this. Let’s say you want to learn how to play basketball. Someone could send you a handout that explains how to dribble, the steps you take before a lay up, how to pass a ball, etc… Or, someone could take you to a basketball game and say, “Look–that’s dribbling.” Student work is our visual, our model, the shortest path from confusion and frustration to competency. We all need that path!
When you walk into Back-to-School night (or whenever your first face-to-face meeting may be), you could bring a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils–or perhaps, you could just come with a smile and some good questions that will show how excited you are about working with the teacher to help your child have a great year.
QUESTION: What can you do to start off your parent/teacher relationship off on the right foot?
CHALLENGE: Attend your child’s Back-to-School night and have a one-on-one conversation with your child’s teacher.
Edited by Rachel Nielson