One of the most effective ways to advocate for your child throughout their education is to learn the culture of your school/district and build partnerships with the people who will be a part of your child’s educational journey. Team members constitute your Parent Teacher Association (PTA), teachers, administrators, and other professionals that work with your child throughout the day.
WHY? The PTA is a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn the ins and outs of your school. PTA organizes amazing events for students, fundraises for important programming, and stands as a group to advocate for all students. By involving yourself in PTA, you have an opportunity to connect with faculty, staff, and other parents in your community. Oftentimes district information is shared via PTA. Face to face meetings provide valuable moments to interact with your principal, superintendent, and/or other school representatives.
HOW? The first step is joining. Membership forms are generally sent to families the first week of school. Dates and frequency of meetings vary from school to school. Volunteering in PTA events give you access to school and also present opportunities to get to know the principal and faculty on a different level. Taking on leadership positions like the chairperson of committees or executive board positions offer occasions for personal growth and development. They also give you a chance to participate in decisions that will impact your child and the school at large.
Your Child’s Teacher
WHY? Your child spends a very large percentage of their waking time with their teacher. He/She gets to know your child in many ways; academically, socially, and developmentally. On the most obvious level, your child’s teacher is responsible for educating your child. In a more complex view, your teacher understands your child’s learning style, sees your child’s social strengths and weaknesses, and is in a position to assess your child’s development in relation to peers and expectations. Teacher/Student relationships can be very influential in a child’s life, impacting decisions such as career choices and other future plans.
HOW? In the beginning of the year most teachers reach out to parents and ask for information about your child. Do it! Being responsive to teacher requests and taking part in early dialogue sets the stage for future conversations. Being honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses strengthens your relationship with your child’s teacher. By being open and respectful, you will create the groundwork for effective advocacy throughout the year and possibly years to come. Being proactive as concerns arise by emailing, calling, or sending a note to school addresses issues and opens dialogue for resolution.
WHY? Depending on the size of your school, you may or may not have a vice principal, but you definitely have a principal. These individuals are responsible for many tasks throughout the building; working with teachers, overseeing curriculum, managing staff, fulfilling district goals to name a few. These people are also there for parents if problems come to light.
HOW? Oftentimes parents enter an elementary school for the first time, and flashback to when they were a child. The principal’s office was a scary place students were sent when they misbehaved. As a parent, it’s important to break that mindset and recognize that the principal and vice principal are resources for you. When issues come up that occur outside the classroom, or if you have a broader concern regarding your child’s education, the principal is often the best person to address the questions. The principal also is involved in student placement from year to year. That is a really important reason for them to fully understand the personality and learning style of your child.
WHY? There are other professionals in the school that play a role in your child’s education. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), your team might also constitute a case manager, occupational therapist, speech therapist, school psychologist or physical therapist. These professionals also serve as resources for parents if you have concerns about your child.
HOW? If your child has an IEP, you will attend regular Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings. For other parents with questions, contacting these professionals should be as easy as contacting your teacher. Generally your teacher will let you know if they believe a problem exists. But you should not hesitate to contact someone if you are worried about your child.
These ideas are just a starting off point for creating positive partnerships with the key players in your child’s education. The most important thing to remember is that you are the number one advocate for your child. You know your child best, and represent him/her from the home perspective. That perspective is just as important as what happens in school. You also need to know how to follow through and support school efforts in the home. Partnerships work best when all team members are respected and heard. Good luck with your team building efforts. Post experiences or comments here!
Lisa Davis is a PTA president at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, NY. She is also the mom to 3 wonderful children. Lisa currently manages the PTA Twitter account and Facebook group. She is also a co-founder of ParentSchoolPartners.wordpress.com, a blog that focuses on home/school issues.