Pick your school battles
During your child’s schooling years, there will be times when either you or the school will need to address issues or concerns that crop up. How you handle these, and which issues you choose to become involved in, will either strengthen you and your child’s relationship with the school or push it towards a precarious cliff edge.
Joan Coetzee, principal of Pecanwood College’s Pre-Preparatory school at Hartbeespoort Dam, says a child’s schooling years should and must be a happy and supportive experience, and that it can be if the communication is excellent from all parties involved.
Start off by laying the groundwork for a good parent-teacher relationship. At the beginning of the school year, introduce yourself and get to know your child’s main teacher. By doing this, you not only show interest in your child’s education, you’ll also start building a relationship instead of just opting to make contact when a problem arises. In addition, your child will feel more secure within their schooling environment. Research has shown that a good parent-teacher relationship leads to better academics, children who are happier at school both emotionally and socially, and
kids who are better behaved.
Issues worth raising
While you may be tempted to bombard your child’s teacher with every little quibble you may have, keep in mind they aren’t there to do you a disservice or discriminate against your child. If they didn’t make the school play or the first team rugby, chances are there were other students who out-performed and were more deserving of the placement.
Remember to try and be the adult in the situation when your child comes to you with school grievances, and use the opportunity as a teaching lesson. What valuable life skills can your child learn about the situation? Can they problem-solve a solution to the issue?
By remaining calm and positive yourself, you can teach your child to do the same when faced with similar issues later in life. If your child is reacting to something at school, you might be tempted to react too, but pause and reflect before
responding with an angry email. Model problem-solving behaviour rather than complaining or becoming upset. Don’t forget to hold your child accountable for their part in their education. If they’ve been called in for not doing their
homework again or for doing badly on a test, don’t make excuses for them.
Joan recommends approaching the teacher when your child is unhappy or their behaviour begins to change; or you
have critical or crucial information or a first-hand experience that affects the school, its children, parents and staff.
‘Issues’ vary from parent to parent, but if you think something needs to be discussed then raise it, so that it can be dealt with and you can have peace of mind.
Tip: When talking about the school or teacher with your kids, remember to do so respectfully, even if you don’t always feel that way on the inside. Speaking negatively about the teacher or school in front of your child could trigger them to do the same.
When it comes to school-related issues, parent gossip can quickly lead to issues developing out of control. If you have a concern to address, do so without the need to discuss it with other parents. Joan highlights a few behaviours
parents should try to avoid:
- Going directly to school board members or beyond before addressing issues with the teacher and principal.
- Getting involved in car park chatter and hearsay.
- Negativity and running down the school.
- Taking control of the mom’s class group in a dominant and controlling manner, or being a negative class mom.
- Confronting staff, other parents or the principal publicly or in the school corridors.
- Confronting somebody else’s child without raising the issue appropriately with an adult.
- Parents confronting one another on school grounds.
- Dictating to the teacher and school.
Go through the right channels
When raising an issue, it’s always a good idea to approach the teacher concerned first. ‘Often an issue arises from a breakdown in communication or a simple misunderstanding that could easily have been sorted,’ advises Joan. Try to avoid escalating problems to the principal if you haven’t explored other avenues. If you feel you can’t speak directly to the teacher involved, then see the principal – schools should have an open-door policy when it comes to approaching their principals and staff. ‘If you’re not happy with the outcome with the teacher then it’s fine to set up a meeting with the principal. Should the principal not deal with the matter to your satisfaction, you then need to see the director of your school. A formal letter might be a good idea – especially if you prefer a paper trail after a meeting and you’re still concerned, or the issue has not been fully resolved,’ she recommends.
Tip: You may choose to raise your concerns directly with the principal if it’s a matter of school policy or involves a wider community than just your child and a specific teacher or situation, if it’s a serious issue concerning violence or abuse, or it’s related to a staff member’s actions and role fulfilment.
Schedule a meeting
If a teacher asks you for a meeting to discuss your child, keep the following in mind:
- Ask what the meeting is about and who will be in attendance.
- Enquire whether you should bring anything along with you.
- Should you be unable to attend the meeting, be respectful and notify all parties involved
ahead of time.
Build a positive relationship with open communication
Joan recommends a path of open communication between parents and school to build a strong and healthy relationship:
- Support school functions, parent workshops and parents’ evenings, which are crucial for teacher feedback.
- Volunteer on committees when and where possible.
- Communicate with the teachers.
- If your child comes home with correspondence from school, read all communication and respond where necessary.
- Offer feedback on events and functions, with suggestions where necessary. Schools like and need
feedback, and will try their best to address negative comments. If something was good, tell the school –
schools also like to receive praise and hear the positives.
- Assist teachers and schools where they need help.
- Be loyal to the school.
- Trust the teacher, trust the school. Take an open-minded approach when listening to advice from teachers.
FEATURE: TARYN DAS NEVES PHOTOS: FOTOLIA.COM