I think we’ve all been there…another school year. New staff members. How can I make sure I have positive relationships with those at my child’s school? This certainly isn’t a beginning of the year thought but one that parents contemplate frequently and one that I advised on regularly as an elementary principal.
As the parent of 2nd grade twins, I know how important it is to have a positive relationship with the staff at my children’s school, especially since our enrollment tops 600 students. It’s not a secret that schools are busy little cyclones of activity and energy, especially elementary settings where children may be driven back and forth and where parents have sent off their firstborns to this huge place of learning that is now so different from when we went to school. And most parents at the elementary level want to know everything there is to know. Everything.
Yet, a school is also a place of business with staff that has tasks to complete every day, most important of which is the physical and emotional well-being of your children.
Keep in mind that the people at school are there to help your child, and you. They are there to help your child clean up after getting sick, bandage a skinned knee, provide a needed hug when feelings have been hurt and…yes…reinforce rules. Think of them as your partners. Use “please” and “thank you.” Acknowledge their work on days when its not a holiday or their birthday because, for every positive comment you make, they have probably been yelled at or demeaned by someone. Your words of strength and positivity make a difference.
Put your past behind you. If you had a bad experience at school when you were a child, keep mindful of the fact that your child isn’t you. I can’t tell you how many times I had an angry parent in my office and once I peeled back the layers of their issue, the problem was really about a situation where they were slighted, bullied, or otherwise put off when they were in school…and not about their child.
Listen objectively. I know it is difficult to hear that your child made a poor choice and you certainly need to be an advocate for your child. Sometimes children don’t tell the truth. Let me repeat that: sometimes children don’t tell the truth. Many children realize that being in trouble at school is nothing compared to what may happen once they get home.
Don’t jump to a defensive position. When you’re told of a problem at school, take a deep breath. Listen and ask probing questions. Don’t ask what the punishment was for other children (because a responsible principal won’t share that with you, just as they should not share your child’s punishment with other parents). I’ve always said, “I can’t tell you what the punishment was, but your child can ask around and find out by the end of the day.” It’s perfectly acceptable to be an advocate for your child and if you feel your child has been wronged, please say it in a calm, rational way. If you need to take a day to calm down and think through your thoughts, perhaps writing them down on paper and taking in notes to a school meeting, do so.
Keep the lines of communication open. Have you ever heard one of those comments like “the school has construction and won’t be open next week” or “there was a fight on campus and the principal didn’t do anything” or “the teacher was out of our classroom all afternoon so we watched a movie and ate popcorn with no adults in sight.” Yeah….
Pick up the phone or send an email. If you’ve heard something that just doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface, inquire. As a principal, I always appreciated the opportunity to squelch a rumor and get accurate information out to our school community, but certainly didn’t want to spend my instructional time chasing the many rumors that came up every week. Take the high road and encourage other parents to do the same. And if something comes up with your own child, such as sickness or death in the family, do take the time to let school staff know so they can give advice and provide the needed support and that caring extra smile and hug to your little person.
One final note – at the heart of the school are the secretary and the custodian. Say hello, introduce yourself, greet them by name, and remember them year round and you’ll be well on your way to a great relationship with the staff at your child’s school.
Dr. Lisa Gonzales has 16 years of experience as a school leader, including time as an elementary principal and middle school and high school assistant principal. She now conducts teacher, administrator and parent training for the Santa Clara County Office of Education and works in the area of legislative advocacy as the Vice President for Legislative Action with the Association of California School Administrators.