A Parent’s Back to School Guide: Advocating for Your Student

The beginning of a new school year can be fraught with anxiety. As with all transitions,
anticipating the unknown is often scary and a new school year, with all that it brings, is one of
the top stressors for children. They must learn new routines, make new friends, take on new
and more challenging curriculum, and get to know a new teacher – it’s a lot to take on all at
once! The new school year can also be stressful for parents! Each classroom and each teacher brings about a new social construct. Developing new relationships and learning how to navigate
classroom dynamics takes time and effort. Knowing how and when to advocate for your
student is an important skill to have.

Get to Know the Teachers

Developing a rapport with your student’s teachers is the greatest gift you can give to both your
student and the teacher. Making sure that the teacher knows that you seek to be an asset,
rather than a liability, in the classroom is an important step toward developing a relationship.
The teacher is the educational expert and you are the expert on your child. When the two of you work together with a common goal of doing what is best for your child, your child will benefit greatly from that collaboration.

A mistake that parents often make, according to teachers, is that they only interact with
teachers and school staff when there is a problem. Taking the time to get to know the teacher
and allowing that teacher to get to know you, helps to mitigate that issue and make it much
more likely for teachers to understand your perspective. Approaching teachers when you are
angry or feel that your student has been wronged sets the stage for a negative relationship.
None of us are at our best when we are in protective mode for our kids.

Know Your Rights

Knowing your rights, and the rights of your student, is the most important step to becoming an
advocate for your student. Spending some time reviewing your school’s parent handbook can
make the difference between going into a meeting with the knowledge that you are making a
reasonable request, or wasting everyone’s time by demanding things that your student is not
entitled to. For example, ensuring that your student, who has a nut allergy, is safe in common
areas, is a right that they are entitled to under federal guidelines. Making sure that your child
gets the teacher they like, or is put in the same class as their best friend, is not something they,
or you, are entitled to. Taking the time to research and understand what the school is capable of providing  and what they must provide is valuable and will make future meetings run more smoothly and be more
pleasant.

Empower Your Student

Before you insert yourself into classroom dynamics, make sure you student has the opportunity and the tools to advocate for themselves, as age-appropriate. If your child feels that they were unfairly disciplined for a classroom incident and is upset about that, encourage them to talk directly to the teacher. While the outcome may not necessarily be optimal for them, teaching them to respectfully stand up for themselves and to talk about their feelings, is an incredible lesson and one that they will carry with them for many years. Remember, too, that your student’s perception of what happened in the classroom may vary drastically from the teacher’s perception, or recollection of events. Teachers are human beings. Occasionally, they make mistakes. The teachable moment that occurs when a child has a conversation with them, and they acknowledge those mistakes, is truly priceless. If you take away this teachable moment by inserting yourself at the first sign of trouble, you run the risk of alienating the teacher and shifting the dynamic between the educator and your student.

Additional Tips to Prepare for Meetings and Parent-Teacher Conferences

● Be punctual for meetings.
Understand that teachers and administrators have limited windows of time away from their
class. Make sure you use that time wisely.
● Keep your cool.
Anger and threats are not effective tactics in which to try to make a point. Remember that
everyone is on the same team.
● Bring a friend, but leave younger children at home.
It’s always important that you feel comfortable and confident when you meet with your
student’s educational team. Having someone accompany you to these meetings can be very
helpful in two ways: it can keep you calm, and it gives you someone to debrief with after the
meeting has ended. Bringing younger children to meetings, however, can make it difficult for
you to focus and can be distracting to the rest of the meeting participants.
● Document everything.
Take notes during your meetings. After you have gathered your thoughts after each meeting,
send an email thanking the educators for their time and summarize the highlights of the
meeting and what the agreed-upon next steps are. That way you have these things in writing
and can refer back to them if need be.

When to Escalate Concerns

If, after meeting with teachers and classroom personnel, you feel like your concerns are not being addressed, or that they are not following through as promised, it may be time to escalate your concerns. Bringing a school administrator into the conversation may be the next step. Each school should have an outline of their staffing structure available for families. In some cases, if the principal is not providing the support they should, a superintendent may be the next step. In other communities, it may be the Board of Education, or a teacher’s union. Familiarize yourself with that structure and use it appropriately. It is not advisable to take a classroom issue straight to the superintendent, nor will it help your student’s issue to be resolved, though it likely will damage your credibility should additional issues arise in the future.

Contact Planting Seeds Tutoring Today

At Planting Seeds Tutoring, our mission is to empower students to become passionate about
their education by providing a positive environment that allows them to master the skills
needed to become successful independent lifelong learners. We are also committed to making
sure our families and parents have access to the resources they need to ensure their students
are successful in pursuing their education. To find out more about whether or not your student
would benefit from support with their academics or to learn more about the services offered at
Planting Seeds Tutoring, an Austin, Dallas, South, and Central Texas-based tutoring company,
visit our blog, our website, and follow us on Facebook. You can also contact Planting Seeds Tutoring with your questions at (972) 342-6496, or via email at plantingseedstutoring@gmail.com