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Tips on Building a Good Relationship with Your Child's School

You will build a great relationship with your child's school if you:

1. Try to see things from the teacher's point of view as well as your own
2. Pass on praise
3. Keep a sense of proportion
4. Stay informed
5. Do what the school asks.

Try to see things from the teacher's point of view as well as your own

'Please,' said a teacher friend, 'please, please, can you write something saying teachers are human too! So many parents think, like their children do, that we go back into the cupboard along with the overhead projector at the end of the day'

On any given day your child's teacher may be trying to do their relentless job while feeling tired, unwell or distracted by personal problems. Remember that their job is demanding - they are constantly squeezed by things such as bad behaviour and the pressure to raise standards. And hold in mind that their responsibilities are different from yours. Your job is to worry about your one child; they have to worry about thirty. So, for example, if you go in to complain that the behaviour of a boy in the class is giving your son sleepless nights, remember that the teacher has to think not only about your son's distress, but also how to better manage that bad behaviour while also meeting the needs of this difficult boy. If you go in to say your son needs to be more challenged in maths, the teacher has to work out how to do this, while still paying full attention to the struggling or average children in the class. It sounds obvious, but it is amazing just how myopic we can be when pursuing our own child's interests. And understandably so, since our job is to focus on our child. But it's worth realising this myopia is not helpful. It can cause a lot of ill-will. And being aware of the wider context of your child's problems does not mean you will be less assiduous in pursuing solutions to them; only that you will be able to talk them through with the class teacher in a more realistic and empathetic - and therefore, hopefully, more productive - way.

Pass on praise

Let your child's teacher know when something has gone right. If he has been excited by a lesson or really likes a particular subject - teachers need appreciation as much as the rest of us.

Keep a sense of proportion

Some parents get so anxious about their child's schooling, that they are in and out of school for every little thing. This is bad because:

1. Your child's teacher will resent the time you are taking up
2. Your child will come to expect you to solve every problem - and not learn to be independent and do it for himself
3. Your child may get embarrassed by your constant complaints
4. If you cry wolf too often, no one will take any notice when there is something seriously wrong.

Other parents, on the other hand, let even major problems develop without getting involved or, worse still, push their children through the school gate in the morning and take no interest in school from then on. This is bad news because:

1. The school won't know when a child has a problem or
2. It will guess there is a problem, but not know what, or how serious it is
3. Unresolved problems tend to get bigger
4. The child will feel that no one cares
5. The child will get the message that school is something that doesn't matter
6. The child will feel embarrassed if their parent doesn't do what the school asks - buy the right gym shoes, for example, or provide a packed lunch for a school outing.

As your child goes through school, try to develop antennae that tell you when a problem is fleeting, when it is small but needs watching and when it is serious. Learn to ask yourself, as one infants' teacher always does when pupils come running to her, 'Are you whingeing, telling a tale or is it serious?' Finding the right answer is a real art, and takes some working on, but it is possible. Name-calling in the playground, for instance, may mean nothing if it is merely a squabble between friends who are always falling out, then falling in again. However, if it goes on longer, and your child is clearly unhappy, it is obviously time for a quiet word with his teacher. And if something is going on in the playground that is making him cry and lose sleep at night, then that is definitely a situation that you will expect the school to help sort out - and also let you know how it has done so.

Stay informed

Read any newsletters your child's school sends out, and any letters from the head or the class teacher. Keep an eye on notice boards in the school, and encourage your child to remember to hand over any pieces of paper he has been given to bring home. Again, it sounds obvious, but in schools' experience, most parents don't do it. This can make schools feel that trying to involve parents is not worth the time and effort. Or it means that it has to waste valuable time and effort phoning round about things like getting back permission slips for class trips.

And make use of any system that your school has for communicating with home. Reading and homework diaries there as two-way communication channels, but they can't work unless you play your part. A little comment is all it takes to keep the lines open, while questions and queries should prompt a teacher to respond. But little is the word. Lengthy essays will not be appreciated.

Also, if your school has a website, log on to it from time to time to keep yourself up to date.

Do what the school asks

Schools require things of parents. They need them to get their children to school on time, pick them up on time and send them to school in a state fit to learn - which means looking to things like breakfast and bedtimes. They need them to comply with its policy on illness, and policies vary, so be sure you know what yours is. Some schools, for example, ask parents to keep their children at home if they have been vomiting the night before, to be sure the problem's over with.

If your child's school has rules about uniform, games kit, what children can bring to school, jewellery and haircuts, follow them - unless you have some violent objection to what is being asked, in which case take it up formally with the school. But don't feel that it somehow doesn't matter if your child doesn't have regulation shoes, or if he takes his mobile phone to school even if he's not supposed to. If every parent thought the same, the school's discipline policy would go out of the window.

Attend parents' evenings, show an interest in what is going on in class, try and send in dinner money promptly, and return permission slips and school outing money on time. Your school will thank you for it, and it will also mean that, should you need to tackle a difficult issue, teachers will respect you as a parent who is sensible and supportive of your child in school.

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