How to Kickstart Your School Year with a Strong Parent-Teacher Partnership
By Jenny Woo, PhD
The start of any new school year brings about all kinds of emotions: excitement, anxiety, and fear. Even now, having gone through 20+ years of schooling and countless back-to-school moments with my three kids, I still feel the jitters when I recall my first day of elementary school.
The pandemic created even higher levels of unimaginable stress and nerves for students, parents, and teachers. We’ve confronted endless unknowns and adapted to the twists and turns that we might have said in the pre-pandemic world could only exist in a Hollywood production.
The past 2+ years of social distancing and school modifications resulted in lost opportunities for our children to develop social skills. This year, second graders will experience their first normal school year, and ninth graders will enter high school without ever experiencing a normal middle school year.
More than one-third of educators observed that their students’ social skills and emotional maturity levels were much less advanced than students before the pandemic. Researchers warned that these under-developed and regressed social and emotional skills could impact this generation of students for their lifetime.
How do we help our children develop these important skills they’ve lost or never had?
“It takes a village” may be a more important truth now than ever before. We require strong home-school partnerships to maximize our children’s learning and development. To make this happen, parents and teachers must work toward shared language, skills, and expectations for our students across all settings.
Here are some practical ways parents can take action.
How to Kick Off Parent-Teacher Communications
Getting that school email with all of the pertinent back-to-school information is exciting. We’ve now secured our back-to-school essentials and memorized the drop-off/pick-up routine.
A great way to start building a solid relationship with your child’s classroom teacher is to wait a few days to a week before emailing them. While some might argue that waiting isn’t the best idea, it’s also equally important for your child’s teacher to get to know your child on their own. The teacher may be getting inundated with emails at the start of the school year, and it could only add another email to their to-do list.
Email your child’s teacher introducing yourself. Or, if they have emailed the parents, take the time to reply. Give a little helpful background information about your child. Keep it short and straightforward. If your child has struggles or learning difficulties, give background on it. But, if it’s something that needs more than a few sentences to explain, it’s best to request a meeting.
How to Strengthen Ongoing Home-School Communications
Conflicts and misunderstandings will happen throughout the school year. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, if there’s a problem, then it’s best to address it with each other right away. Common classroom issues like assignment completion or student behaviors can be better managed when there is an upfront understanding of expectations and procedures.
If your child is struggling with completing assignments, talk to your child’s teacher. Set up a meeting to discuss what’s happening at home and how it’s affecting your child. You and the teacher can work together to find a solution that works for everyone.
As parents, we are perpetually on alert—preparing for that call from the school about our child getting into trouble. It’s easy to fall into nit-picky mode—today’s math lesson was not up to par, or the teacher could’ve done this or that. We must remember to broaden our focus beyond deficits and problems.
A successful home-school partnership is strengthened with positive support. Share the good stuff! If your child mentions something special about their teacher, send a quick email sharing this sentiment. If your child shows improvement in something, thank your teacher. Notes of positive happenings go a long way and uplift everyone when they know they’re having an impact.
How to Build Shared Language, Skills, and Expectations for Home-School Partnership
The more teachers and parents work together, the more our students notice. A strong home-school partnership enables our students to practice and apply knowledge and skills across both contexts.
As a start, align your home language with your child’s teachers when you communicate your expectations regarding your child’s behaviors and assignments. Keep a pulse on what your child needs to thrive academically and socially at school. Establish a daily check-in routine with your child. It can be a chat in the car or a dinner table conversation about your child’s day.
For more support, 52 Essential Social Skills cards are an easy tool to spark school-life communications with your child and pinpoint their strengths and development needs. Each card includes a specific social skill and a relatable situation kids encounter at school—and often struggle with. The cards also provide “What would you do?” role play questions to prepare students for productive actions and responsible decision-making.
Sample topics include making friends, dealing with a bully, working through frustrations, handling peer pressure, being a team player, handling exclusion, and balancing school stress. For more information, check out Social Skills for K-3 Grades, Social Situations for 3-6 Grades, and Social Dilemmas for Middle School.
Blad, E., & Sawchuk, S. (February 24, 2022). Educators see gaps in kids’ emotional growth due to pandemic. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/educators-see-gaps-in-kids-emotional-growth-due-to-pandemic/2022/02
Bauerlein, V. (May 9, 2022). Remote Kindergarten During Covid-19 ‘Could Impact This Generation of Kids for Their Lifetime’. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/remote-kindergarten-during-covid-19-could-impact-this-generation-of-kids-for-their-lifetime-11620552653
Jenny Woo, Ph.D. is a Harvard-trained educator, TEDx speaker, and founder/CEO of Mind Brain Parenting. Jenny conducts research in social and emotional learning, emotion regulation, and resilience. She is the creator of a series of award-winning emotional intelligence games: 52 Essential Conversations, 52 Essential Relationships, 52 Essential Critical Thinking Skills, and 52 Essential Coping Skills. Her games have won the 2018 Parents’ Choice Awards, 2021 National Parenting Product Awards, and were featured by Harvard and CASEL.