When parents and teachers openly communicate, students tend to earn higher grades, perform better on tests, attend school more regularly, have better behavior and show more positive attitudes toward themselves and school, according to research from the National Association of School Psychologists.
"A lot happens in the day-to-day life of a student, much of which is unknown to his or her parents," said family therapist Ellen Schrier of MamasOnCall.com. "While we always want to respect the fact that our kids have a life away from home, it's absolutely crucial to have a good working relationship with the teachers and staff who see and interact with them all day, every day."
Parents might think otherwise, but teachers need your help, said Carol Lloyd, executive director of GreatSchools, www.greatschools.org, a non-profit that profiles every school, preschool through high school, in the country to help parents choose the right one for their child.
"Many parents assume that the teacher is the boss, the professional, and doesn't need their help, but teachers really need parents' network, their support " to create the best learning environment for the child, Lloyd said.
When to approach
The key to fostering the parent-teacher relationship is to establish it early when things are calm and no problems exist. Then, if a problem or situation arises, that needs attention, the groundwork will have been laid and a positive outcome is more likely, Lloyd said.
The beginning of the school year is a very hectic time as "teachers are trying hard to get to know the names, abilities and personalities of their students," Schrier said. "The best thing for parents to do at this stage of the game is to respect that. Make sure your child is on time every day, well rested and fed, with all the supplies she needs. This will help the teacher to do her job better, and she will bless you for it."
As the school year begins, it's always a good idea to politely introduce yourself and have a short chat after school or at a time when the teacher doesn't have her hands full. There's no need to ask for "special" time if there is no problem or issue to address.
How to approach
There's no one best way to contact a teacher. Some prefer email; others like to talk in person or on the phone.
"At the beginning of the school year, figure out which is best for your child's teacher," said Lloyd. Usually, the teacher will let you know.
Another way to open communication and make yourself known to the teacher and staff is by volunteering in the classroom or the library. Not only does this model for your child that you value education, it also can lead to better learning.
"Studies have shown that parents who go into the classroom and articulate that they have high expectations for their child's learning have children who do better in school," Lloyd said. "When the teacher knows that education is important to the family and that the family wants the child to do well, teachers behave differently."
What to ask
For the best communication, it's not just how you communicate but what you communicate.
"The frustration many parents have is that when they talk to the teacher, the response is that the child is doing fine," Lloyd said. A better conversation would be to include specific questions, such as "How is my child doing in math?" or comments such as "My child is struggling to read. What can we work on together at home?," Lloyd said.
Opening the lines of communication benefits all involved, Schrier said.
"When a teacher gets to know you as someone who is invested in your child and the school, she will admire and respect you for it. All of this helps to cement your relationship with the institution that is so deeply influencing your child's life."