Your systems just aren’t working like they’re supposed to. And almost every day brings another email or phone call from school. If it’s not a low grade, it’s trouble on the playground, or acting out in class, or missing library books.
This school year is off to a ROUGH start. And it’s only September!
If you’re having a tough start to your school year, here’s how you can turn it around fast.
The first step in this plan is simply to contact your child’s teacher. Be honest and upfront about your worries, struggles, whatever is going on.
The teacher or school won’t be able to help you unless they truly know what is happening in your family and at home. You can email:
Hi (Teacher’s Name),
I wanted to let you know that I am concerned about (Child’s Name)’s (grades, behavior, focus, friends, homework, achievement, special education, gifted education, at-home strategies, changes in our family, military life concerns, etc.). I’d really like to set up a time to chat with you about this.
I am available (dates and times). Would you please let me know the best time to meet with you?
Literally copy, paste, and customize this exact email. If you need more email templates, check out Talk to the Teacher. It’s packed full of easy email templates that you can customize super fast. These emails make it simple to send a message so that you can get results fast!
What’s the Problem?
Part of solving problems is honesty. And it can take a while to complete this part of the process. You’ll need a notebook and a pencil (with a good eraser).
On a blank page, as close to the left-hand margin as possible, write down: Problem. Now on the next line, write out exactly what is going on. Try to be objective. I’ve given you a few examples below:
Johhny is failing math. He is not able to memorize multiplication and division facts 0-12; he is usually unable to independently complete math problems with multiplication, division, and/or fractions; he is unable to independently complete multi-step word problems. His current grade is 67.
Susie is having trouble socializing on the playground. According to incident reports, Susie reacts with anger and sometimes violence in turn-taking situations; she does not use language to express her emotions about sharing toys or playground equipment; she has physically hit or kicked several students; she has received timeouts and loss of recess privileges.
Both of these situations have been laid out without emotions. This is NOT about how you, the parent, feel about this. It’s not, honestly, even about how your child feels at this point. The goal is to identify the problem and find a solution.
What’s the cause?
Grades are easier to understand than social or emotional concerns. After all, grades are based on work. And the work is all related to the standards being taught. There is a clear path.Emotions and behavior are all sorts of confusing!
Let’s start untangling the why behind the problem.
For grades, take a look at previous years. Think about:
- When did you FIRST notice low grades in this area?
- What was your child working on when you noticed that first dip?
- Were there any extended (greater than 1-2 weeks) absences during the previous two years?
- Is this limited (one subject) or broad (more than one subject area)?
- Is anything else going on (friends, sports, stressors, etc.)?
Missed time in school, like for a PCS move or long illness or vacation, can contribute to gaps in knowledge. These are easy to overlook in elementary school, especially since the school year moves fast. But they can add up down the road. For example, during a PCS your child could miss upwards of a month of school. What if that period is when fractions was taught? Your child has missed it and may or may not be able to catch up later on. It’s not a blame game, just something to consider!
Other factors, like trouble with friends or disliking a teacher, can also cause knowledge gaps. Your child might be distracted during learning time and miss important information.
On your Problem page, start a new line and label is Possible Causes. Write down everything that might be part of the problem or have caused the problem.
For emotional or behavioral issues, the questions are pretty similar. Think about:
- When did you FIRST notice the behavior/emotional reaction?
- Has the behavior/emotion become more severe or extreme over time?
- Is this emotion/behavior only shown around certain people?
- Does my child feel/act this way in only some situations or all situations?
- Where does this behavior/emotion primarily take place?
- Is there a particular object/person that seems to be involved or nearby during these behaviors/emotions?
- Have there been any big life changes (divorce, death, remarriage, new family member, moving, deployment, injury to parent/sibling/self) recently? Did something happen right around when I started noticing these changes?
- How have you/school staff been reacting to these behaviors/emotions?
- Have there been consequences? If so, explain them.
- Could this be attention seeking?
Once you really examine all these parts of the behavior or emotion, you may start to make connections. Maybe Susie started pushing children off swings when her father deployed or when her baby sister started getting more mobile. Maybe she is acting out at because her friends are being mean to her or she feels like she is losing control of a situation.
This is where the teacher or school staff can jump in. When you go to your meeting (remember step one), bring your Problem page. You can plan for your meeting using the workbook pages from Talk to the Teacher to help you find your focus and stay on track.
At your meeting, ask the teacher the questions you already asked yourself. Write down their answers and compare them to your own answers. Now is a great time to talk about what you both are seeing that is the same and different.
After you both think about what could be behind your child’s situation, it’s time to talk about where to go from here.
For academics, you and your child’s teacher should consider:
- tutoring: academic help after school focusing on bringing your child up to speed
- Response to Intervention (RtI): in-school support and reteaching
- Special Education: start with requesting an evaluation (if tutoring and RtI don’t help)
- in-class accommodations: moving child’s seat, bigger print, small groups, leveled work, peer work buddy, technology assistance (speech to text, typed assignments), guided notes (fill-in-the-blank, printed slideshows, etc.)
- in-class modifications: reduced workload, shorter assignments, small group reteaching
Academic interventions and changes should always be documented, closely monitored, and changed as needed.
For emotional/behavioral concerns, you should work with the school counselor or social worker. Often they will have solutions or programs that you might not know about. You should talk about:
- Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): a trained staff member watches your child and makes note of what happens before, during, and after the emotion or behavior; this will help identify triggers and potential reinforcers
- Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): a plan created after a FBA to help reduce the negative behavior(s); students are rewarded for positive behavior in situations where they previously had negative behaviors; usually part of an IEP or 504 Plan
- counseling: either with a school counselor or social worker or with a professional of your choice; a non-school counselor would be at your own cost
- peer modeling: partner with another student to model appropriate behavior
- changing seats/class: if your child is being triggered by being near particular students, making a change to their seat assignment, classroom, or other school settings could help stop the negative behaviors
Make a Plan
After talking about everything that is going on or is concerning, it’s time to make a plan. You could follow this outline:
How will we know it is working:
Fill this out with your teacher and/or counselor. Make copies for each of you. Use Talk to the Teacher to help you organize your documents and communication so that you can find everything easily later on.
Schedule another meeting within a few weeks to check-in with your child’s teacher for progress. Find out how the plan is going, what is being tried, and what the teacher is noticing at school. Share what you are seeing at home. Talk about next steps and your overall impressions of how the plan is working.
When you follow this plan, you can stop a rough school year quickly.
Working with your child’s teacher and school can help you find solutions to problems. You will be building a team to help your child. You can start working together to improve your child’s grades, change behaviors, or address emotional turmoil.
How have you worked with your child’s teacher to prevent a rough school year?