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Getting It Right: The School-Home Connection

Education is a partnership; our children benefit from an alliance between school and home. It's the reason parents join the local parent-teacher organization and dutifully attend back-to school nights. It's why they volunteer for occasional field trips or special projects that bring them to school for celebrations, career days, or book fests.

Many parents remain strangers to their children's schools. They either don't feel welcome, are unsure about what kind of involvement is appropriate, or justify their absence by maintaining that the teachers know what is best. Besides, no news is good news, isn't it?

Yes and no. Many schools welcome family involvement, but some parents are concerned about appearing pushy or overly intrusive. They may have been turned off by the example of other families who are unrealistically demanding and who exert inappropriate pressure on the school.

On the other hand, teachers often view parental silence with disappointment and confusion. What must it be like to request a conference and never hear from the parent? To bring falling grades or behavioral issues to a family's attention, only to be met by aloofness or distance? No wonder many teachers assume that parents don't care.

Breaking Down the Barriers
So, when should a parent become directly involved in the educational process? Let's look at a few scenarios ...

l. The teacher sends home a quiz with a low grade and a note that suggests your child is struggling with the material being studied. A parent signature is requested.

Parent A signs the paper, which is returned to the teacher.

Parent B views the teacher's note as an invitation from the teacher to become involved. This parent writes a note thanking the teacher for her concern and suggests a conference. The parent suggests that the home and school remain involved on a regular basis and looks for advice from the teacher on helping the child study for tests.

Incidentally, the parent who merely signs the paper may be viewed by the teacher as someone who has neither the time nor the interest to find out more about the child's education. All that was asked for was the signature, but the teacher really does expect more and is looking for help from home.

2. Your child tells you the work is too hard and the teacher never explains anything.

Parent A takes everything his child says literally and assumes the child's point of view is the only perspective. This parent might call the principal and complain about the teacher. He might even request a change of teacher.

Parent B realizes this is only one perspective and calls the teacher to request a conference. Instead of registering the child's complaints, the conference is viewed as an opportunity to find out something about the materials being used and the child's ability to handle the curriculum. The parent's attitude is pleasant, and the encounter is viewed as a meeting of the minds; in other words, there is a child who is not doing well, a teacher who knows how to help the child, and a parent who is interested in supporting the teacher's efforts.

3. There is something going on in your child's family life that may impact her learning. This could be a medical problem, a potential relocation, impending marital separation, or the death of a close friend or relative.

Parent A does not think there is a connection between school and home, and prefers that the school not be involved in any personal business of the family. After all, these are private matters and have nothing to do with school.

Parent B understands that whatever impacts the child also impacts learning. Despite the difficulty of divulging these sensitive matters, Parent B knows the school will treat them with respect and confidentiality. Additionally, this parent understands that the child's behavior and school work may be affected by changes at home and wants to enlist the school's help.

Collaboration between home and school is especially important during times of conflict and uncertainty in a child's life.

Staying informed about what is going on at school, listening carefully to the stories children tell, and responding to communications from the classroom teacher all contribute to building effective collaboration between school and home. It's a winning formula to keep in mind: student + teacher + parent = the 'new math' of effective education.

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