A new school year is starting, which means a new teacher for your child. Take a few minutes to write a letter that will help equip your child’s teacher for the excitement and challenges ahead.
“As much as our kids need support at times, teachers need just as much,” says Kathleen Secchi, Santa Clarita coordinator for Family Focus Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides support services to families raising children with disabilities.
Give the teacher a few days to get the school year rolling – and maybe to review your child’s IEP – but don’t wait more than a week to deliver your letter. You don’t want your first communication to be because something has gone wrong, and it’s amazing how quickly the school year moves once it gets started. “Before we know it, it’s October or November and we haven’t even introduced ourselves,” Secchi says.
Email is just fine, but an actual letter is a nice touch. “It is a little more personal to hand it to them, especially if you have time for even a brief introduction,” says Secchi.
Start your letter by telling the teacher that you’re excited about having your child in his or her classroom and looking forward to a great school year. Secchi suggests adding: “We are here to support you as a teacher and work together as a team.”
Your child’s strengths. This is a nice, positive place to start. Include academic and personal strengths and talents, and examples of recent progress.
What works for your child. List strategies your child uses to navigate learning and personal challenges, including tools such as visual schedules, number lines for math work or recorded text to help with reading.
Your child’s triggers. Is your child upset by changes in routine, loud noises, being hugged? Making the teacher aware could prevent some problems.
Ways to calm your child down. If your child becomes upset, does she feel better if she can take a break in a quiet space? Listen to music? Hug a stuffed toy? It’s also important to let the teacher know what doesn’t work.
Safety issues. Make it clear if your child is prone to bolting away from caregivers, self-harming behaviors, trying to eat non-food items or other behaviors that would put your child or others at risk.
Food and health issues. List medications and food allergies, but also food aversions and sensory issues. This information is on file in the school office, but it can be helpful to let the teacher know directly.
Your letter is also a chance to explain anything about yourself that might have an impact on your child’s days at school. No need to over-share, but letting the teacher know that you are a single parent, are battling a chronic illness or are adjusting to a new job or new house might be helpful.
Do your best to limit your letter to one page, to be respectful of the teacher’s time. Secchi suggests starting with a set of bullet points so that you hit the highlights, then adding details as needed. She says your message should be: “I want to be in communication, but I also understand that teachers are very busy.”
After this first letter, follow up from time to time with brief notes of just a few sentences. It’s especially important to let teachers know about “even a little tiny success,” such as a strategy that is working or an activity that really resonated with your child. “Sometimes they’re really grateful to hear that,” Secchi says. “It makes their day.”
A kickoff letter can pave the way for a good relationship, and a brief note here and there can keep things positive. That way, when challenges arise, you and your child are working with someone who’s already an ally.