The Art of Talking with Teachers

During the first and last two months of the school year, parents ask me one question more than any other. It’s the same question I’m asked in every workshop I give:

“What’s the best way to talk to the teacher about this?” or “How and when do we bring this up with the teacher?”

When it comes to advocating for your child, many parents struggle with how to talk with teachers – whether it’s about classroom placement, a social situation, your child’s progress or behavoir. And it’s understandable because our mama and papa bear emotions – the primal protector of our babies – often lurk below the surface, sometimes ready to pounce. Channeling those emotions and keeping your discussion productive can be difficult. But it’s critical if you want to get the best results for your child.

How you communicate with educators plays a big role in whether your concerns are heard – and how quickly they are addressed. A technique I share with parents helps keep messages focused and productive – rather than blaming or judgmental.

I call it the Power of P3: Be Professional. Be Positive. Be Persistent. When used consistently, this approach puts you on a path to getting your child’s needs met, whether you’re communicating via note, email or face-to-face. It’s not always easy to do – especially when you feel frustrated or angry with your child’s teacher or school. But when blame and accusations seep into your discussions, teachers will feel the need to defend themselves versus hear and respond to concerns. And very little gets accomplished.

So what does the Power of P3 look like?

Be Professional: Remember the letters PROF:  Be Polite and Remember to use Observations and Feelings rather than accuse or judge the teaching. Start the conversation by thanking or complimenting your child’s teacher for something you have been happy with. Teachers are human too and respond to genuine compliments. Then use “I” language to discuss your concerns about your child. Ask questions.

What Professional looks like: I’m worried about Jamie’s reading; can you share with me the progress he’s made since the beginning of the year? We’re concerned that Chris still feels threatened at recess and in the lunch room – what’s our next step here? (vs. That kid Bobby is still bullying our son Chris). We’re thrilled with Jessie’s experience this year; is it possible to get a similar teacher match for next year? These are messages that educators can hear and respond to in productive ways. Keep the focus on your child – not what another child or parent says or does.  This may sound obvious but talking about other children or mentioning that other parents feel they same way is one of the biggest mistake parents make in communicating with teachers. State your observations and concerns regarding your child in a professional way and a productive dialogue begins.

If you’re sending an email, keep in mind that email is most effective when used to share information, give a heads up or raise an issue and set up a time to discuss. Three sentences will usually do it.  Include your observations or concerns with a few details and, if needed, ask for a meeting. An email that runs on for paragraphs is usually a sign that a problem exists and needs to be discussed – either by phone or in person.

Be Positive: Once the problem is identified and discussion begins, think and make positive statements that move the situation forward. Then agree on some action steps.  I’m confident we can solve this issue; what can we do at home to help? I’m wondering if we can focus on Alex’s strengths to shore up the weaknesses? I know you agree that Sam needs to feel comfortable on the playground and at recess – what do you suggest? Would it help to speak to a counselor or someone else on duty during that time?

Be Persistent: In your discussion, be sure to put a reasonable timeframe on next steps or the agreed-upon action. If you’re not happy with the outcome or you’re not seeing progress despite efforts to be professional and positive, then it’s time to restate your concerns – or bring the issue to another level. If you decide to go above the teacher, always tell the teacher your intention and that you’re unsatisfied with the outcome of the situation. Principals will loop back to the teacher before they respond to you so it only hurts your situation if you blindly go around them.

How you communicate with your child’s teacher and the words you use are critical to advocating effectively.  Using the Power of P3 consistentlybeing Professional, Positive and Persistent  - will help you get your child’s needs met and build strong bridges with your child’s school. For more examples of language that works, see my previous posts on parent-teacher conferences and emailing teachers.

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