How to Be an Advocate for Your Student

When it comes to education, parents need to be their children's advocates. Whether you want to see improvements in school academics or your child needs extra help, the key to successful advocacy is good communication and a knowledge of how the school system works. Here are some strategies to help you be most effective on your child's behalf:

  • Make an effort to get to know your child's teachers. Talk with teachers and administrators when things are going well. Then, as issues arise, they will be more receptive to your concerns.

  • Let teachers know that you are available and open to talking about your child and any issues that arise. Find out the best time to contact a particular teacher if you have questions or concerns.

  • Attend open houses, school functions and parent-teacher conferences. This enables you to know what's happening in school and lets teachers (and your child) know that you care. But remember, an open house is not the time to have a private chat with your child's teacher; it's an opportunity to learn about the program, what the classroom environment is like and the rules and expectations regarding homework. The parent-teacher conference, on the other hand, is your opportunity to talk one-on-one with the teacher about your child's needs.

  • Learn about the school's administration, teachers and resources. Find out the credentials of the staff; look at the programs and the curriculum; talk with other parents of children in the school; and check out the school's atmosphere and services.

  • Tell teachers about your child's learning style. This will help them utilize the most effective teaching methods.

  • Get involved. Research shows that parental involvement makes a difference in children's educational success. Besides traditional PTA/PTO activities, you can assist in classrooms and the school library, supervise children on the playground or organize supplemental educational activities. This gives you a chance to see the school in action. With a bit of creativity, even working parents can carve out a role for themselves supporting classroom activities outside of regular school hours.

  • Alert the teacher if there are any major changes in your child's life. This will help teachers understand why your child's behavior might change.

  • If your child loves school, let the teachers know. Most teachers have files of thank-you notes that they treasure and read from time to time to remind them that they are making a difference in kids' lives.

When There's a Problem

Establishing and maintaining open communication with your child's teacher sets the stage for more comfortable communication if a problem arises:

  • Address concerns as soon as they arise.

  • Remember, your child is not always the best source of information. Children are often selective in what they relate to their parents, and they can misinterpret situations. When there's a problem, let the teacher know what you've heard from your child and how things look to you. Then, listen to the teacher's point of view.

  • Set aside a mutually acceptable time for discussing concerns. Don't try to address major issues "on the run," such as at drop-off or pick-up time.   Click here to listen to the Handling Homework Podcast...

  • If you request a meeting, briefly state your reason to the teacher so he or she can prepare. You should expect similar consideration if the teacher raises a concern with you. Ideally, you and your child's teacher should work together to develop a shared understanding of the issue and a plan of action. Be sure to express yourself clearly and calmly. Use "I" messages rather than accusatory "you" messages. Describe situations and be specific.