Working with your child’s teacher

Should I Go Straight to the Principal to Get Services?

By Bob Cunningham

My child is really struggling at school. I’ve talked to the teacher more than once about this, but I don’t think she’s doing enough to help him. At what point should I bypass the teacher and go straight to the principal?

Bob Cunningham

In-House Advisor, Understood

It’s always frustrating when your child struggles at school. In these cases, it’s natural to want to get as much done as you can and to get it done as quickly as you can. Unfortunately, going directly to the principal is usually not the best way to accomplish your goals.

That’s because schools have processes in place that are designed to resolve issues for children and for parents. Working with those processes is usually the best course of action. That does not, however, mean you can’t take an active role in making sure things change if they’re not going well for your child. Here are three things to try before reaching out to the principal.

1. Talk with your child’s teacher. The first step to getting anything changed is to speak directly with your child’s teacher. When requesting an appointment, it’s good to have thought through the clearest way to explain what’s not going well for your child.

Is the difficulty mostly with academic skills? Is it a social skills issue? Difficulty with organization? Teachers typically don’t have much time for their meetings, so the more direct and clear you can be about your child’s difficulties, the better.

2. Bring documentation. It helps to go into a meeting with something on paper. Collect examples of the kinds of work that is most challenging for your child. Keep track of how much time he spends on homework. Make a list of what he’s forgotten at school or at home recently. And bring a log of problematic social interactions so you can show the teacher the most recent entries.

If you show her these kinds of concrete examples, it will be easier to partner with your child’s teacher and develop a plan to make things better for your child.

3. Suggest reaching out together. If you’ve spoken with the teacher a few times about the same issues, use your next conversation to suggest involving a professional who works outside of the classroom. Many schools enlist the help of psychologists, learning specialists and others who can intervene when a child is struggling.

Present this as a way to support the teacher as well as your child. Ideally, you want to reach out for extra assistance together.

Your child spends most of the day with his teacher, so her cooperation can play a key role in getting outside help to make your child more effective in the classroom. That’s why it’s so important to try to build a good relationship with her or to try to repair a bad one.

If you truly can’t get anywhere with the teacher, it’s appropriate to ask to speak with the principal. Prepare for this meeting by organizing all of the information you’ve discussed with the teacher. It’s helpful to include the dates of your meetings as well as your phone calls and emails with the teacher. The principal will want to know when you attempted to work with her to address the issues.

These documents and other school records will also be useful if you decide to request an evaluation. This process will determine whether your child has a learning or attention issue that requires special education services or formal accommodations. These services and supports can help him make more progress in school.

About the Author

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as in-house advisor on learning and attention issues at Understood.

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