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When To Reach Out To Your Child’s Teacher

Posted by Jennie Wallace

Your daughter is having a tough time navigating the social dynamics at school. Your son sometimes gets so frustrated with his reading homework that he’s brought to tears. When exactly should you reach out to your child’s teacher?

Maybe it’s the fear of adding to a teacher’s already overworked schedule or leftover deference from my Catholic school days, but I almost always wait until the parent-teacher conference to raise issues my children might be having. According to new research by social scientists David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, I shouldn’t wait.

Last fall, Grenny and Maxfield surveyed over 1,000 parents and teachers about how best to handle school-related issues. I called Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. He said the research shows teachers want to hear from parents. “They don’t see your reaching out to them as a burden,” Grenny assures me. In fact, he says, parents should know it’s their responsibility to check in with a teacher, not the other way around. I never thought of it that way.

“If you check in from time to time, then when issues arise, you’ll already have a relationship—they’ll know you’re working together as a team, not assigning blame,” says Grenny. “Build the relationship by sending teachers affirming emails early and throughout the school year, telling them about how their lessons are reaching your child,” he says.

If a problem does arise, Grenny suggests calling the teacher when you’re still in the “curious, questioning stage,” so that you can problem-solve effectively together. “If you go in early, at the exploratory stage, there’s a 99% chance you’ll have a successful conversation about it.”

The researchers offer these tips for starting the conversation:

  • Check your motives. Remember, Grenny says, you and the teacher have a common goal: To help your child succeed. Approach the conversation with that in mind.
  • Start on a positive note. “Begin by letting the teacher know you’re here to understand the problem, not to blame,” he says. “Let the teacher know you see him/her as a partner in solving this problem.”
  • Use facts, not emotions. Be fact-based and specific in your conversation. “And if your child is in any way at fault, be quick to admit it,” he says.

What has your experience been like with teachers? Do you take a proactive approach? Or, have you been reluctant like me?


About Jennie Wallace

Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at

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