By: Gretchen Herbst, Director of Admission and Financial Aid Congressional School, Falls Church, VA
After 15 years of working in independent school admission, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is the importance of a strong parent-school partnership. I am lucky to work in a school where everyone knows one another by name. Small classes and a tight-knit community help to make the school feel like a home away from home, and like many schools, we’ve been intentional in our efforts to build relationships with our families. After all, while home life has the biggest influence on a child, school is the next most important place in which a child learns and grows. A strong parent-school partnership can help children to thrive and succeed.
As I meet and get to know families throughout the admission process, I always make a point to include parent-partnership as one of my talking points. It is helpful to know where parents are in terms of their expectations of the school and for me to share the school’s expectations and the importance, we place on building a strong partnership. At the end of the day, the school and parents are a team, and we all want what’s best for their child.
To make sure I cover all the relevant talking points when meeting with families, I’ve developed what I call the three Cs of the home-school partnership: Communication, Community, and Consistency.
Two-way communication is important. Your feedback to teachers about your child is invaluable and can help greatly in the teacher’s daily interactions with your student. The teacher will listen to parents. After all, no one knows your child better you do!
The school will provide a variety of resources relating to your child and what’s going on at school. These may be in the form of teacher newsletters or emails, parent-teacher conferences, school newsletters, and more. Make sure you read what the school sends you; it will help you manage your child’s daily life and keep you well informed.
Make attending parent-teacher conferences a priority and create a list in advance of things you would like to talk about. The better prepared you are, the more productive the meeting will be. An open dialog with your child’s teacher can give you more insight into your child’s growth and development, weaknesses and strengths. Also understand that sometimes teachers may need to have difficult conversations with you. Try to keep an open mind and trust that the teacher has your child’s best interest at heart.
Encouraging children to be independent is something teachers work on at all grade levels. For very young children, this might mean putting on their own coats, or cleaning up after themselves at meal time. For older students it might mean working on a project without parental assistance or advocating for themselves in situations that may come up. As parents, don’t be afraid to step back and give your child appropriate levels of space to learn, and remember that mistakes are all part of the learning process. If you are not sure how much independence to give your child, consult with the teacher. Providing children with a consistent set of expectations between school and home can help reinforce learning and encourage success. Be consistent and be sure to follow through.
Get involved with the school and get to know the community. Understandably, this can be hard for working parents, but if you have the time to volunteer, do so to the extent that you can. Look for ways to engage with the community; there’s an event for everyone. If your schedule is hectic, try to plan in advance and look for things like field trips, evening social events, field days or other ways to participate. Your involvement will reinforce to your child the value you place in their schooling and your commitment their wellbeing and success.
Next to home, school is the most significant environment for your child’s learning and growth. Building a strong partnership between the two can help your child thrive and succeed. Consider the teachers as partners in your child’s success. We’re all in this together, and we all want your child to reach for the stars and be the best version of themselves they can be!