How to communicate effectively with your child’s teacher

What educators want you to know, and what to look out for. By Marianne McDonald

Parents breathe a sigh of relief when they find an ideal school for their child where the environment is caring and conducive to learning. But maintaining effective communication with your child’s teacher can get tricky once the daily pressures of work, extramural activities and school lifting kicks in.

We spoke to Bernadine Shaw, principal of FasTrackKids in Parkmore, Johannesburg, to find out how to achieve a balance between allowing teachers to do their jobs and your wish to know  what your child is doing, and needs, for school each day.

ALSO SEE: 15 things teachers want you to know before your child starts preschool

“I believe in an open-door policy at school and encourage teachers to be proactive in their approach to parents. I think teachers should be available to have a quick, casual chat with parents at drop-off time. Parents find this reassuring and any questions can be addressed immediately,” explains Bernadine. However, she says, “If a concern is raised regarding the child or an incident has occurred that requires more time and a longer conversation or explanation, the teacher or parent should arrange for a meeting. I encourage my educators to approach the parent first.”

Here’s what to consider and how to handle a few difficult discussions: 

What should I do if I rarely see my child’s teacher at drop-off and pick-up?

Bernadine explains children are often part of a lift scheme and that teachers work aftercare shifts at different times of the month. This can result in the parent and teacher missing the opportunity for interaction with each other. “If this is the case, set a time to meet with the educator for 15 minutes – possibly once a month – to touch base,” says Bernadine. “I also suggest communication via email. This is a great platform to set out your thoughts and a response can be sent by the educator at the end of the day or when the teacher has a free period.”

What if my child tells me something was said or done during the school day that as a parent I don’t agree with?

In cases like this, it’s important to always believe your child, but to enquire with the educator first as sometimes the sequence of events or what the child sees or hears isn’t always correct. This is not to say your child is lying, but the way pre-schoolers remember events is not always in chronological order, or in the correct context due to their memory recall and development. “The educator should always be able to give you an explanation and a sequence of events,” says Bernadine. “If not, senior management should be made aware of the situation and be approached.”

What’s the best way for me to communicate with my child’s teacher on a daily or weekly basis?

“We use email as most parents are online each day and can communicate freely with their child’s class teacher when they are at work. Staff use email for general enquiries or communications like weekly newsletters or informing parents of an incident in class on the day. Some staff make use of WhatsApp broadcast groups to send images to the class parents of events or outings as they happen during the day. We are currently in the process of designing an app where term calendars, for example, will be loaded for easy access for parents.” But Bernadine maintains that the best form of communication is a one-on-one chat. “Whether this be quick and informal, or longer involving minutes or an agenda, it boils down to the ‘R’ factor – relationships,” she says.

What measures are taken at the school to ensure effective communication?

“The school sends out a calendar of events for the term as well as a fee structure for extra mural activities in hard copy. There is a website for further information, and a weekly newsletter is sent home on Mondays covering various topics, including work covered, reminders and additional information. Parents need to ensure they put this up on their fridge at home so it can be used as a reference when packing for extramural activities. There are also notice boards and reminders in the corridors.”

Stickers placed on the child’s clothing or bag can also be a reassuring measure for parents. If a child grazes her knee or bumps her head, a sticker reading “I received first aid today,” can help alleviate worry. Especially if the child is being collected from aftercare and the teachers on duty may not know what happened earlier in the day.

What is the protocol if there is a breakdown in communication?

If issues arise and the parent and teacher do not seem to be reaching a resolution, Bernadine believes in approaching matters face to face – not via email. She says this needs to be done in a relaxed, but pertinent manner, where each party is clear in their meaning and what or how their information is coming across.

More about the expert

Bernadine Shaw is a wife and mom of two. She is the owner and principal of both FasTracKids and The Park on 8th Preschool. With over 13 years’ experience in Early Childhood education, she is passionate about her field and working with parents to build the minds of tomorrow.

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