Advocating for Your Child in the School System
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Advocating for Your Child At School – Stay Involved!

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What does it mean to be advocating for your child at school? You do not have to be in defense mode to be considered advocating.  Remember being your child’s advocate means being their supporter, true believer, cheerleader, encourager, and fellow traveler.  There does not have to be a negative situation in order for you to be their advocate.  Being involved is being an advocate.

As a matter of fact, I taught in the public school system for 15 years.  Of course, I do not want to get into school bashing because I do believe there are way more good than bad people in the system, but you have got to speak up and take up for your child when there is an issue.  Without a doubt, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

If your child brings something to your attention, you show empathy, discuss the situation, and decide if you need to act.  You want your child to be able to trust that when they do come to you, you protect them. This gives them the confidence to come to you in the future.

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Give the Teacher the Benefit of the Doubt

Just because there is an issue, doesn’t mean the whole system is bad or the teacher is against your child.  I can promise you, I had my students best interest at heart, and I wanted to make one heck of an impact on their education and lives in the year that I had them. 

Provided that teachers are with a child 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, there’s going to be something come up.  As a parent, that should be understandable.  If you are with your children 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, some stuff probably comes up that you wish you could have a re-do.  Same holds true for teachers.  It’s when you have a repeat offender that you need to get concerned.

Chances Are the Teacher Has Your Child’s Best Interest At Heart.  You should count on the teacher to be advocating for your child at school.

If you have concerns about how your child is treated by another student, the homework, your child’s grades, anything at all, get on it immediately- that day! The truth of the matter is that teachers cannot be everywhere at one time.  It’s not humanly possible. I sun-upped till sun-downed teaching and laid in bed thinking about it.  I thought about them on the drive home and the drive back, and  I still couldn’t do everything I needed to do for each student.  Not to mention, I could not see everything that was going on.  

As parents, we want to believe everything our kids say, but you have got to give teachers the benefit of the doubt.  You know how hard it is to keep up with 1, 2, 3, 4+ children.  Don’t judge too harshly on someone who is trying to keep up with around 20! This is exactly why communication is key.

I’m a teacher advocate at heart.  I love teachers, and I have really high expectations of them, too.  I tell parents, “I won’t believe everything your child says about you if you don’t believe everything they say about me!” 

If you have your child’s interest at heart and I know you do, it has to be a partnership or the only one that suffers is the child.  Teacher + Child + Parent = Success

You Have to be Involved to be Advocating For Your Child At School

Often times, I hear people say, “I don’t want to be “that parent” who always calls or emails.”  Yes, you do!  I’m not saying blow up the teacher’s email or phone, but if you have the urge to communicate, do it.  Whether you contact for the positive or negative, you need to be in contact with the adults who spend all day with your children. Don’t go overboard, but they need to know you!  They need to know more than just, “Oh she’s Jock’s mom…”  They need to know, “Oh she’s Jock’s mom, and she expects the best.  If he doesn’t get my best, I can expect

DO NOT send your child to these places every day trusting that the best choices are being made for children because that’s what you expect people should do or tell you they do.  No.  You have to be involved in the school in a way that you know what kind of choices are made. The more you are involved the more you will be advocating for your child at school.

Go on the field trips.  Join PTA.  Volunteer at the school.  Eat lunch with the child every once in a while.  Attend the programs. Go to Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom.

Whether you are the parent of a child who is performing below, above, or on grade level, you better be involved in order to make sure their needs are being met.  You don’t want to wait for the conference around Christmas to find out exactly how they are getting intervention or being challenged. 

If you can’t be there, get grandparents to go be a room parent or eat lunch or do read aloud day or AR testing or whatever the school allows families to take part in.  If you don’t have that option, become really good friends with the parents who are always up there. 

Communication is Key to Advocating For Your Child At School

At Meet the Teacher, ask the teacher, “How do you prefer to communicate with parents?”  Use whichever she says is her preferred method.  The Do’s and Don’ts below can still apply.  

Do’s of an Email to the School

  1. Include your child’s name in the subject line with 2 or 3 words why your emailing.
  2. Keep the email around 2 to 3 paragraphs
  3. If it’s a serious concern, cc or bcc the principal as well.
  4. If the teacher has several classes, say which class your child is in.
  5. Stay respectful and calm.
  6. Focus on the facts and what you know rather than what you think should be done about it.
  7. Whenever you want to talk, ask them to call or have a conference about the matter.  If it deals with other teachers as well, request their presence and cc them.
  8. If you have a high maintenance kid and you will be communicating more than most, ask the teacher their preferred method of communication when you have to communicate often.
  9. When your student has anything extra such as special glasses, IEPs, 504, Special Ed, medication, inhaler, EpiPen, food allergy, Speech, mental illness, really shy, anger issues, anything else I haven’t thought of, send a message about it the week before school or the first week, and give them your point of view on it.  Do not try to have a mini-conference about it at Meet the Teacher.
  10. If it’s an issue about transportation, email or call the principal or the transportation department depending on your district.  Teachers do not have control of the bus drivers.  They may have car rider duty, they can’t go handle bus issues.
  11. Send letters of thanks and appreciation.  Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
  12. Inform the teacher when there is “family stuff”.  Divorce, moving, new baby, Dad’s out of the country for a month Moms on her own, etc.  They need to know to have empathy for your child.
  13. Write the teacher at the beginning of school and tell them about your child.  Likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, anything that would help the teacher out instead of taking 3 months to figure it out on her own. Tell your goals for your child and what ya’ll are working on such as paying attention, trying their best, making friends, etc.

Don’ts of an Email to the School

  1. Ramble on 
  2. Come across judgemental.  Remember innocent until proven guilty.
  3. Try to give your child’s biography at Meet the Teacher Night.  If there is something you want them to know, mention at Meet the Teacher that you will be sending an email about x soon.
  4. Expect a teacher to focus on your email until the school day is done.
  5. Try to talk to the teacher like a friend.  Keep it professional.  Yes, you can treat her like family.  When I say friend, I’m talking asking for advice on boyfriend issues, town gossip, talking about other students or teachers type stuff.
  6. Try to have a conference when in passing while you are at the school or supermarket.  If you need a conference, email that you need a conference.
  7. Hit send without reading over your email and making sure you are keeping a positive relationship.
  8. Write the email when you are ticked.  Wait until you have cooled down. 
  9. Say so and so’s mom said… Only discuss your family. 

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!

You May Need to Do Some Research

If you don’t feel like the needs of your child are met, the accountability for the public school system is different per state.  You have to research what yearly progress the laws in your state demand of public schools.  Bring those value-added and average yearly progress words to the table at the conference. Our children spend a lot of time at school. Make sure it is worth waking them up for!

If your child is in special education, you especially will need to research to make sure you know all of their rights and the services they are entitled to.  You will need to know your rights and the expectations you have to go through to make sure the child gets the best education and school experience.

The Parent-Teacher Conference

The conference is usually a time when parents and teachers communicate about the child’s progress in the areas of academics and behavior. You can ask the teacher if they prefer the student to be present at the conference. Turn off your phone for the conference!!

  1.  The parents should brainstorm questions and comments before the conference.  Do not hesitate to bring notes to the conference. When you get there, discuss your topics in order of importance.
  2. Before the conference, tell your child that you are going to have a conference with his teacher to discuss her progress.  Ask the child if there is anything they want you to ask about or tell the teacher.  Add these comments to your notes.
  3. Try your very best to go to all the conferences.  Do not hesitate to request a conference that is not initiated by the teacher.  
  4. Don’t go to the school with private areas showing or see-through clothes on or a lot of bra showing.  Keep your integrity and you don’t want your child being thought of as “the kid with the mom who shows…”  I know people shouldn’t judge, and hopefully, they don’t. But chances are somebody does. Don’t risk it for your child’s sake. The school is not the place to show your business.  If you do, you may not be taken seriously.
  5. If you have trouble understanding the language of the teacher, ask for a translator to be present.
  6. Don’t be afraid to be straightforward and honest with the teacher.  Example:  My child cries every morning that he doesn’t want to come.  My child says she’s bored.  My child says ____ makes fun of her hair.  Why is there a substitute every week?  Is it necessary to have 8 worksheets a day?
  7. Ask about your child’s social and emotional progress as well.  
  8. Be sure to tell the teacher of any change the child is going through or anything outside of school that may be affecting the child.  
  9. Relax and be yourself. You can even ask the teacher what coffee or soft drink they prefer and bring you each a drink for the conference. Seriously, these people have your most prized possession, 5 days a week!
  10. Thank the teacher for all she does and name specifics about what you appreciate.

Good Questions the Conference

  • 1.  Do you think my child is trying her best?
  • 2.  Does my child participate in class discussion or do you have to bring her in?
  • 3.  How are my child’s test-taking skills?
  • 4.  What can we do at home to support what he’s doing in class?

5.  If your child is below level, what is being done to get him on grade level? What extra help is he getting? Are tutorials available? What do you do when he doesn’t know?  Is there any help I can get him online or hire a tutor? What can we do at home to help bring him up to grade level? 

6.  How do you respond if my child struggles with a lesson?

7.  If your child is above level, what is being done to challenge my child? What does my child do when he already knows the material that is being taught? How can I challenge him at home?

8.  How does my child do when working in groups?  How does my child treat others?

9.  Is there anything that you think I need to know about my child that is going on at school?

10.  How often do you have a conversation with my child?

11.  How often do you work one-on-one or in a small group with my child in reading and math?  If they don’t do either in elementary, I’d be really concerned no matter the reason.  If they don’t do it in intermediate or middle, what a shame.

12.  What is my child’s attitude?  Does she seem energetic? happy? well-rested? involved?

13.  How does my child handle challenges?

Advocating After the Conference

  1.  Discuss the conference with your child.  Go over the positive points, and then discuss any issues.  Make an action plan for how the issues will be resolved.
  2. Talk with the child about any plans you and the teacher created or any suggestions the teacher gave.  Decide how the family is going to carry out their end of the plan.
  3. Stay in touch with the teacher/s.
  4. Stay on top of the action plan.

Advocating For Your Child At School When There Are Issues With Another Child

When your child has continuous issues with another child, it is best to notify the child’s teacher, possibly the counselor, and if it is serious, the principal.  With this in mind, every parent should have a discussion with their school-aged child about bullying, being a bully, what to do if someone else is bullied, and what to do if they’re bullied. 

The main thing the child needs to go away with is, “You can talk to me and together we will make a plan for what is the next best step.”  Moreover, don’t wait to have the conversation when bullying happens.  If it doesn’t happen to them, high chances are, they will witness bullying at some point.

A good source of information:  Helping Kids Deal With Bullies

My favorite article on bullying:  What should parents do if their child is bullied at school?

Call to Advocating Action

As you can see, advocating for your child at school will not only put them on the pathway to success, it will give them a better chance of not slipping through the cracks or being bullied.  I hope that this article has given you some new ideas and ways you can be advocating for your child at school. Be sure to favorite this article so you can refer back to it or any of the beneficial links that are embedded.

If you missed the other two articles in the series, you can find them here:

Every Child Needs an Advocate – The Advocating for Children Series

Simple Ways to Advocate for Your Child in the Healthcare System

Education Resources For You

Be an advocate for your child in the school system

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One Comment

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