Friday, November 5, 2010

Bridging the communication gap between school and home

As your kids settle into the school year, you may find that dealing with your child's education can sometimes be a bit unsettling. Whether it's a new year with a new teacher whose communication style leaves you wanting more or dealing with major issues from grades to behavior, having a solid working relationship with your child's school can be as critical as their daily attendance.

We live in a real-time society where instant access to grades via the Internet and to your children via cell phones is the norm. Parents are continually looking to bridge the gap between school and home.

"The reality is that teachers have so many students and so many constraints on their time that they simply cannot give an adequate amount of attention to communicating home to the child's parents," says Dr. Mike Papadimitriou, headmaster for the Academy of Science in Conroe, Texas. The key to success for parents, he says, centers along creating the appropriate and acceptable lines of communication with the school and with their child.

"The best way to keep abreast of what's going on at school is to get involved," says Dr. Marv Abrams, an adjunct educational professor for Argosy University, Orange County and an educational professional with 20 years teaching and 14 years administrator experience. "Whether your child is young enough for you to volunteer in the classroom or whether you join the good old PTA, you're gaining access to knowledge about how the classroom and the school work and gaining access to school administrators that can be very useful for staying in tune with your child's education."

Another critical component to keeping your child out of trouble and focused on studies is to know your child's friends. "Parents should always be monitoring their child's friends," says Abrams. "Know who your children are hanging out with, texting, and talking to on social networking sites and what they are doing with them. Kids are attracted to people just like them so if you find they hang out with a 'bad crowd' the reality is that they are the 'bad crowd' and you may need to intervene."

Kids who stay active are kids who stay out of trouble, both Abrams and Papadimitriou agree. Whether it's a school club, the band or athletics, the more time kids spend in the presence of an adult engaged in something positive, the better off they'll be.

When your child faces trouble, socially or academically, staying neutral is the key. "Parents can lose objectivity when it comes to their children. They send their children to us as their most prized possessions and can forget that their children, like us as administrators, sometimes make mistakes. Nobody is perfect - the goal should be to focus on the problem at hand and correcting the situation, not on identifying blame with either the child or the school," says Papadimitriou.

While many parents consider themselves as much a friend to their child as a parent, setting clear boundaries for yourself is as important as getting involved. "Allow your child to work through the issue on their own," says Abrams. When they come to you with an issue, ask what they are doing about the problem and how they can resolve it. Offer advice that can help them work it out for themselves. Papadimitriou agrees and adds, "If that doesn't work, then you communicate with the teacher," he says.

If the issue is academic, Abrams recommends getting to know the learning environment better. "Ask the teacher how he or she is teaching the content standards and when they are teaching which subjects. Ask for additional work and/or resources to help support your child's learning. Stay focused on your child and not on telling the teacher how to run the class or how to work with other kids."

"Never criticize the teacher or school in front of your child," says Abrams. "It forces your child to choose between the authority of the school and your authority as a parent and only sets them up for further conflicts in the future. If you need to discuss an issue, you talk to the teacher without your child knowing. That gives you the opportunity to partner with the teacher to find a solution and sets your child up for success in the future. It also sets you up to be able to reinforce the work the teacher is doing."

"While a child is never expected to adjust to an abusive situation," says Papadimitriou, "sometimes children just have to learn to adjust to different ways of doing things and to different personalities. The less critical and the more cooperative you are as a parent, the more positive impact you can have on your child's education."

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