Be your child's best Advocate at school this year

There was a time when a parent’s role in the school life of a child was a bit like a washing machine: sort, set, forget.

School life and family life were separate. Parents didn’t know much about what was going on at school until they received a report card in the mail at the end of the first six months, then the year. It was a bit like opening a well-wrapped Christmas present — you didn’t really know what it might contain.

Those days are long gone.

Now, schools actively seek partnership with parents because they see how it benefits children. Parents, too, want to know what their child is learning, how they’re going, and what they can do to help.

The wide-ranging benefits of parent involvement are backed up by Harvard research. Parents who take an interest in their child’s learning and partner with schools in positive ways give a child positive self-esteem, greater motivation to learn, positive attitudes about school, and better grades. As well, adolescents are less likely to have discipline issues, get involved in substance abuse, or drop out of school.

But how do you become your child’s best advocate and school partner?

How-to Guide for Effective Advocating and School Partnership

Partner with your child’s teacher — You know your child best, but partnering with their teacher can give you even greater insight. Discuss your concerns as well as what you have confidence in when it comes to your child. This will give the teacher insight into any learning and attention issues and help them personalise instruction if necessary. Listening to the teacher’s observations also gives you a more complete picture.
Develop common expectations about schoolwork — You know what it’s like when your child spends the day with his aunty and she gives into everything he wants? Chaos! When there is inconsistency in the schoolwork expectations between school and home, things can go badly wrong. If your child doesn’t love reading, try the same approach that his teacher takes: “Jack, do five minutes of reading for homework and then you can get a drink of water before finishing the next five.”
Get organised, especially if your child has an IEP — Keep your child’s report cards, specialist reports and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) in one folder. This will help you and his teacher stay informed of his learning progress. Find out as much as you can about how his plan works. For instance, is he being taken out of class for support or is a teacher aide mostly working with him in the classroom? Knowing this gives you more insight into what works best for him and a greater picture of the adjustments that need to be made in your next meeting.
Communicate regularly — If there is an urgent issue at hand, contact the school immediately. However, for most things, once you’ve met the teacher and had a brief introductory conversation, email the teacher with any questions you have and make sure you always follow up at any parent-teacher interviews. A private one-on-one meeting is always better than conducting a deep conversation at the classroom door before the teacher runs off to afternoon bus duty. In parent-teacher conferences, a teacher will be much less distracted by external factors and have lots of information close at hand. If you need more time than the parent-teacher time slot allows, arrange a meeting and always make a list of three or four important questions to ask.
Stay calm and collected — This is a partnership, and like any relationship you may not agree with everything your child’s teacher says and does. Instead of assuming that they are wrong, take a step back and let them explain their position. There are often very good reasons for decisions teachers make. If you are still not satisfied, explain your position and show them an example of what you’re talking about. Demonstrate your willingness to cooperate by asking what you can do how to help.
Teach your child to self-advocate — This is what we ultimately want for our children as they head towards adulthood. However, even before they are capable of taking over the rains, you will need to give your child ways of speaking up when he needs to. It may seem simple, but having these key phrases at the ready, you will be giving him more confidence to speak for himself.

Be your child’s best advocate this year. We all value good learning, and when schools and parents find ways of connecting and supporting each other, our children reap the rewards.

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