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Transitions for Parents: Supporting Students — And Their Teachers — Through Each Educational Phase

As students grow in their academic journeys, their support needs will change. Here’s what you need to know to best support your child and his or her teachers.

As students age through their academic journeys, their parents’ roles are constantly changing. Understanding how and when you should be involved in your children’s schooling can help you ensure they receive the support they need while still encouraging developmentally appropriate responsibility, communication and time management practices.

“If you present yourself as a partner, the teachers are more likely to feel comfortable collaborating with you and coming to you with any needs they have identified,” said Emily Mitchell, vice president of education at Sylvan Learning. “This partnership will evolve as your child ages, but approaching the relationships with this baseline is a great place to start.”

Mitchell explained that, as a child ages, the parents’ roles will naturally diminish. This allows students space as they begin to manage their responsibilities and communications independently, and it provides them space to begin practicing those skills in lower-stakes environments — where parents and teachers are still available to step in if it becomes necessary.

“In elementary school, it’s fine to be on top of things. The student is young and still learning how to ‘do school,’” she said. “If you feel like something needs to be discussed, email the teacher or send a message.”

Even when students are young, parents should avoid “helicopter parenting” as it relates to academics and teacher communications, but it is acceptable and encouraged to be an active participant in the child’s education.

By middle school, students should begin to manage communications with their teachers directly.

“If there’s an issue like a missing assignment, it’s up to the student to ask for the resource needed to fix the problem,” Mitchell said. “I might remind my kids that they need to ask their teachers for help, but I’m not going to ask the teacher to solve the problem for them.”

For students struggling with this, Mitchell suggested parents take a moment to help their kids compose the email or message they plan to send to their teacher. This way, the student is still the one communicating, but there is still a feeling of support from the parent.

While this approach is generally effective, Mitchell did note an exception, saying that parents should feel comfortable personally intervening if things have really “gone off the rails,” so to speak. If students have so much to catch up on that they are struggling to keep up with ongoing assignments and any to-dos they might have as they work to remedy existing issues, or if they are not receiving the help they need from a teacher after reasonable communication, it’s probably time for an adult to step in.

“By high school, students should be pretty independent unless there’s a significant or emergency need,” Mitchell said. “This is time for them to really start learning to advocate for themselves, and they need to take responsibility for their academic journeys.”

As parents’ roles evolve over time, there should be a through-line of common sense. If you feel that there is pertinent information that should be shared with a teacher, introduce yourself and reiterate that you’re open to communication and doing what you can to provide support. Beyond this, proceed based on what you see from the teacher and the student.

“Some years, your kid will have a teacher that they mesh well with, and other times, they won’t,” Mitchell said. “Don’t try to hound a teacher into being something they’re not. Use your parent-teacher communication judiciously.”

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