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In It Together: Working in Partnership with Your Child's High School

As you prepare for your son or daughter to enter high school, it’s normal for anxiety levels to be high; not only for your child but for yourself as well.  After all, there’s a lot of unknown territory to navigate: new faculty, a new building, new academic and social opportunities, etc.  And while you certainly want your child to experience some autonomy and learn how to fend for herself, you also want to be able to guide her properly (not to mention kept in the loop).  Indeed, when parents are engaged, children (no matter their age) are more likely to succeed in school.  So, how do you make sure you’re on top of things?

To begin with, schools periodically host events to help keep parents abreast of programs, curriculums and protocols.  In fact, you can often take advantage of such things even before your child is actually enrolled.  Indeed, most high schools host open houses for families of 8th graders to introduce them to the school and help ease the transition.  Many secondary schools also hold “Back to School” nights, parent-teacher conferences and other similar events.  Should you decide to attend any (or all) of these, you’ll have the opportunity to meet your child’s teachers, assess their attitudes and methodologies, and learn what they expect from their students.  And, you can likely inquire as to how your child is doing and whether or not she is meeting expectations.      

If possible, you should also attempt to make yourself visible outside of these scheduled parent-focused events.  For example, if your son is on the tennis team, do your best to attend at least a handful of the matches.  If your daughter is in the jazz band, go to a few of the concerts.  Your presence at events like these creates casual opportunities to interact with the educators who spend time with your child.  The more the faculty/staff see you, the more comfortable they will be in approaching you as well.  Additionally, attending these events will also allow you to meet and interact with fellow parents, some of whom might also be able to provide information and insight.

Unfortunately for some parents, other professional or familial obligations might preclude them from swinging by a basketball game, debate match or even an open house.  However, even if your time is tight, the one person you should still consider establishing a relationship with is your child’s guidance counselor.  Your child’s counselor will (usually) be assigned to her for all four years of high school.  Said counselor will advise her on class schedules, academic programs, post-secondary school plans, etc.  Guidance counselors follow the progress of all their assigned students and therefore should be able to direct you to the best choices/options for your child.

Of course, when reaching out to teachers or administrators, it’s important to maintain certain protocols.  Teachers greatly appreciate parents who show continued interest and involvement in their children.  Nevertheless, it’s essential that you realize that they work with a number of students, not your child exclusively.  You should not contact them on a daily (or weekly) basis to simply check in, nor should you reach out regarding every tiny issue.  Moreover, if a problem with your child does arise, approach the issue calmly and with an open mind.  Don’t jump to conclusions or automatically defend your child.  By and large, teachers always have the best interests of their students and classrooms in mind.  
Finally, beyond reaching out to teachers or school administrators, make sure you keep the lines of communication with your child open.  When your child comes home from school, ask about her day.  Inquire as to what she discussed in class, how much homework has been assigned or if any tests are on the horizon.  You don’t need to hound her for every detail or demand a play-by-play of her day, rather just start a simple conversation that lets your child know that these things are important.  She will value what you value (even if she is reluctant to admit that outright).          


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Don Munce