Over the course of my years in the classroom I have come across many parents who are eager to support their child’s learning experience but don’t quite understand how. I have also come across several parents who are unable to decipher when the needs of their child are being met and when they should do a little more investigating.
Some of my most thought provoking experiences however have come from my own friends and family who are parents of underserved children and do not know what to do or even what to ask to assure that their school is providing their children with the best service in accordance with their needs.
Here’s 5 tips for how parents can stay connected to their child’s educational experience.
1. Ask about open door policies.
Schools should always be open to parent observations of classroom practices and their child’s engagement in the class. When a school is reluctant to allow parents the freedom to be a part of the environment from an evaluative standpoint, your mommy/daddy senses should start tingling. You should have fluid communication with teachers and principals at your school of choice.
If the culture of the environment is strong and respectable, there should be no fear of irrational behavior from parents or other supposed “risk-factors” in parental involvement in a school. Respect is self-generated. If the environment is respectful of parents and students, parents will exude that respect when they are in the building. The only circumstance under which parents are disrespectful of the school environment is when they sense an injustice toward their child.
2. Ask about standards and curricula at the beginning of the year.
Most school districts nationwide use Common Core Standards—a set of expectations for the acquisition of math and reading/English and college-readiness skills by grade level. These standards will help you to understand what skills your child/children should be learning at each grade level at each month of the school year. Many schools, especially at the elementary level, adopt curricula that are already aligned to these standards and are proven to increase student proficiency on these skills.
Ask your child’s teacher what curriculum he or she will be using throughout the year and if there is a parent-friendly outline that you can use to keep track of what your child is learning.
3. Ask about technology in the classroom, ed tech is not the teacher.
Often we find ourselves impressed by a school’s technological advancements and while technology is an amazing resource for the classroom, it is only a resource. Technology should be used to supplement a child’s learning, not do the teaching. Your child’s classroom leader should have thoroughly exposed your child to a skill before releasing them to use technology for reinforcement.
Always inquire about exactly how technology is incorporated into the learning experience. Remember we want critical independent thinkers, not robotic dependent thinkers. Who wants their future doctor to google their symptoms in the exam room.
4. Ask about classroom management strategies and disciplinary policies.
Don’t be afraid to ask exactly how a teacher or administrator maintains positive culture throughout their school. What do you do to keep kids quiet? How do you prevent physical altercations? What is the chain of consequences? How do you respond to rebellious children? Any question no matter how big or small signals to the school leaders and teachers that culture is important but approach is important as well. Most schools will deny any form of corporal punishment as a means to maintaining culture. However any disciplinary procedure or policy that is non-restorative is corporal in nature.
If your mommy/daddy senses pick up on a culture of fear—teachers vaguely expressing their concerns with the organization of the school, students not being able to fully recount their disciplinary experiences, parents revering the school leaders as icons or staples in the community making them reluctant to respond to abuse in their child’s school—speak up. That is your red flag from the universe. Something isn’t right.
5. Ask about Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 504 Plans and the evaluation process.
Last but certainly not least, our special needs babies. The IEP/504 Plan process and maintenance can be an emotional rollercoaster for parents as we realize our child’s weaknesses and try to intervene before they become a detriment to their learning experience. This is a reality, but we have to stay focused and strong.
Observe your child’s behaviors and retention rates at home. It will serve as leverage in getting your child the help that he or she needs. Ask your child’s teacher to provide specific evidence of student work and assessments that supports their claims about your child. You should be privy to this evidence prior to IEP/504 Plan meetings to develop your own understanding of what’s presented.
Ask for copies of everything. Anything pertaining to your child’s IEP or 504 Plan should be copied and provided to you. Follow up with teachers and administrators about your child’s accommodations. Sometimes teachers and administrators do not fully provide the accommodations established by the IEP/504 Plan. Make sure that you are aware of your child’s accommodations and follow up with teachers and administrators to assure that they are being provided.
Lastly, don’t sugar coat your child’s needs when talking to them about it. The only way for our babies to jump over life’s greatest hurdles is for them to be present. Allow your child to be involved in their intervention process. Let them tell you what works and what doesn’t. You guys are a team and your child is the captain of his or her destiny.