Earn an A+ in communication

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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By the middle of the school year, most parents of young children have met their child’s classroom teacher. Over several school visits, parents and teachers have had the opportunity to get to know each other’s interests, values and communication styles. By mid-year there is often a take-it-for-granted good harmony in the feelings between home and school.

But sometimes the harmony is interrupted when parents have questions or concerns about programmes, activities or academic progress. What is the best way to start a discussion with the teacher without risking the good relationship you’ve been building?

Clarify misunderstandings with a call or email.

Ask directly:

  • “Can you please tell me how to … ?”
  • “Would you please send more information about … ?”
  • “I think I might have missed one message on … Would you please let me know more about it?”
Understand the response.

Listen to the voice or read the email with care. Sometimes a short telephone call or a quick email is all that is needed to clarify a misunderstanding. When you do get a clarifying response, be sure to thank the teacher for the prompt and helpful reply. If there is no response in one to two days and the matter is important to your child’s welfare, try calling or emailing once again.

Invite a longer conversation on complex issues.

Broader concerns about reading level expectations, maths methods on the computer, nutritional content of the school lunches, religious teachings and so on require more time for all points of view to be heard. Request a time to meet directly with the teacher or administrator. Arrive promptly and assume that the meeting will last no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. With a calm voice, begin by clearly stating your questions. (Write these down before the meeting so that you don’t forget anything.)

Some ways to begin discussion on the more complex topics might be:

  • “We could not find any information on the school website about … Would you please explain why it is that … ?”
  • “Both of us are curious about … Could you help us understand the reasons why … ?”
  • “In our previous school, we were told to … Here we find that you are suggesting the opposite. Can you help us to understand the difference between … ?”
Stay focused.

If you hear ideas with which you do not agree, ask for more information. Do not object until you fully understand what the teacher or school official is saying. Ask how the programme got started. Ask how parents might learn more. Listen for the main content and separate this from supporting or background information. Do not let the conversation wander into side questions; help to keep the attention on the question you have asked.

Ask for more time to consider.

Sometimes it becomes obvious that you don’t know enough about the topic to continue the conversation with the teacher. At that point, it’s probably best to thank the teacher for her time and ask if you might return at a later date. Let her know that you want to know more about the area of concern; ask for printed materials or website resources.

Talk with other parents.

From parents of children who travel on your child’s school bus to women you meet in the supermarket, tennis buddies or parent association leaders, chances are that someone else has dealt with a similar problem before. Ask other parents what they have done in similar circumstances.

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