Back-to-school season is an exciting but busy time. There’s the shopping for school supplies, the flurry of events and emails, and the introduction to new teachers and classroom environments.
During this time of transition, parents and caregivers should also work to establish a line of communication with their children’s educators.
“Communication, especially proactive communication, can alleviate so much confusion about assignments, student concerns, challenges, grades, and more,” Staci Lamb, a teacher and blogger at The Engaging Station, told HuffPost. “Communication also creates connection and community, both of which ultimately allows teachers and parents to best meet the needs of the student.”
Research has shown that parental involvement in their children’s school experience has a positive effect on their academic, behavioral and social-emotional success.
“When parents and teachers establish a partnership early in the school year, parents have the opportunity to learn how they can best help their children from the start. And parents are able to share important information about their children that helps the teacher seamlessly build rapport, which leads to student engagement, motivation, confidence and success,” said Tracee Perryman, author of “Elevating Futures: A Model For Empowering Black Elementary Student Success.”
To help foster this kind of healthy communication and open conversation, we asked education and child development experts to share the one question they recommend parents ask their children’s teachers at the beginning of the school year. Here’s what they said:
What can I do to help my child succeed in your classroom?
Paulo Graziano, a psychology professor and researcher at the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University, recommended asking, “What can I do to help my child succeed in your classroom?”
“This question lets the teacher know that as a parent you will be an ally in the child’s educational journey,” he explained. “This is particularly important should your child have any behavioral, academic, and/or social-emotional difficulties during the school year.”
He also recommended displaying a sense of positivity and appreciation for teachers. Try to give them time to settle into a routine before asking for extra meetings or accommodations.
“The beginning of the school year is quite hectic so try to be as helpful as possible as a parent in terms of bringing supplies that teachers ask for and signing up for volunteering opportunities if you can,” Graziano said.
Asking your child’s teacher how you can best support your child is helpful to both the educator and the student.
“Especially in secondary school with students having upwards of eight different classes, the demands for each can become overwhelming for students and parents,” Lamb said. “If parents can help students stay organized and keep them accountable, it will be extremely beneficial.”
What are the safety protocols at school?
“I would ask your child’s teacher if they know what the school safety policies and protocols are ― with the most important being those on bullying and on weapons brought into the school and potential active shooter incidents,” said clinical psychologist John Mayer.
It’s important to find out if your child’s school and teachers are prepared to keep their students safe amid rising incidents of gun violence.
“The importance of parents communicating with the school and the teachers is vital to your child’s education and well-being,” Mayer explained.
What level of support should I be providing at home?
According to Reno, Nevada-based first-grade teacher Katy Carscadden, parents of young students should also ask what they can do to best support their child at home.
“This is an important question due to their developmental abilities at such a young age,” she said. “Elementary age students will need support such as setting healthy bedtime routines [and] academic support such as reading together. Most importantly, young children need social emotional support from home to feel confident and comfortable at school each day.”
If your child is in high school, this is also a question you should ask of their teachers.
“To me, this is such an important time for adolescents to learn to self-advocate and how to take on more responsibilities,” said Erin Castillo, a high school special education in the Bay Area of California. “So we want a healthy balance of letting teenagers start to take the lead when it comes to academics, but still having parents that are willing to step in and help support if things are heading in a negative direction.”
How does this school create a welcoming environment?
“I would say parents should ask teachers, ‘How do you support, welcome, and celebrate individual differences/diversity in students?’” Mayer said. “And, to uncover that in schools, what activities, programs, courses or extracurriculars do you have at the school to serve students of all types and interests?”
He believes a welcoming environment is a crucial part of any good school, so parents should encourage educators to foster an inclusive community.
“For too long in the history of education, parents took a hands-off approach to their child’s school life ― thinking that it was the school’s responsibility to not only educate your child, but to socialize them, teach them civics, good behavior, values, maturity, responsibility, and on and on,” Mayer said. “Schools do not and did not have the resources or mission to do all these developmental tasks for kids. The result is that many kids are not receiving guidance in these critical skills from any source.”
What skills do you expect from my child?
“Some questions that I would recommend asking are related to your child’s academic performance,” Perryman said. “What skills do you expect my child to perform when they enter the classroom the first day? How can I help my child come to your classroom prepared to learn the content you plan to teach? What resources do you recommend I use to help my child? What does success look like as my child practices these skills? How will I know if my child is able to move on to practicing another skill?”
She recommended asking these questions, as well as any relevant follow-up questions to find free resources, as well as strategies and tools that can keep your child stay on track.
What is your approach to teaching different types of children?
“I think it is very important to ask questions related to your child’s social adjustment in the classroom,” Perryman said. “In other words, ask questions that help you understand the teacher’s strategies for managing various social situations within the classroom.”
She recommended asking questions like, “What is your approach to teaching children with a temperament like your child(ren)’s ― shy, bold, talkative, etc…?” as well as those with different temperaments to see how they might manage conflicts between your child and others. She also suggested asking, “How do you incorporate student interests into learning?”
“This may provide some clues into the teacher’s ability to engage students your child’s age,” Perryman explained. “Finally, scan the classroom carefully. Look to see if the classroom is colorful, and if the posters, pictures and objects engage students with various learning styles. Look for visual cues that may reveal the teacher’s value of social/emotional learning.”
How can we as parents help you this year?
“The top question to ask is, ‘How can we as parents help you this year?’” said educational psychologist Reena B. Patel.
She and other experts who spoke to HuffPost recommended making it clear that you are part of their team and share the same goals as the teacher.
“Teaching is collaborative work,” said Vera Ahiyya, the author of “KINDergarten: Where Kindness Matters Every Day” and a teacher herself. “Teachers collaborate with students, colleagues, administration and parents/caregivers. Together, we work to ensure that every child receives the best educational experience possible.”
What is the best way to contact you?
“The most important question centers on communication,” said communication consultant Laura Fredericks. “What they should ask right away is, ‘As you know, things will come up that we would very much like to ask you. Hearing from you right away is very important to us as I am sure it is for you. What is the best way to contact you ― by calling or a text ― and may we have your number?’”
Establishing a mutually open line of communication allows both parents and teachers to get in contact when something important comes up ― whether it’s related to school safety, bullying, curriculum changes, academic performance or mental health challenges. You don’t have to ask in a pushy way, but can instead sincerely state your intention and figure out the proper protocol for getting in touch with the teacher and appropriate frequency.