Proactive Communication: Knowing When Students Should Take the Lead

By Amanda Trimillos

In meet-the-teacher sessions at new schools with my children, time and time again I heard teachers use the term “proactive communication.” Teachers offer parents several ways to communicate – email addresses, phone numbers, and notation areas in student agendas. They emphasize the importance of proactive communication with all parents.

But, sometimes as parents, we aren’t one hundred percent sure when to use proactive parental communication and when to encourage our kids to advocate for themselves. This uncertainty is compounded for parents of military-connected families when deployments and PCS orders throw extra challenges in our kid’s lives. Both parent- and student-initiated proactive communication are necessary. Parent, teacher, and student are all part of the student-advocacy team and must communicate effectively.

As a teacher, the most common question I am asked is “When should parents reach out to a teacher?” Should they immediately call when they see a potential challenge, or should they wait to see how their student handles the situation first? The answer lies both in the age and maturity of the student as well as the severity of the situation. Parents of elementary and middle school students typically use proactive communication more often than parents of high school students.

“Sometimes as parents, we aren’t one hundred percent sure when to use proactive communication and when to encourage our kids to advocate for themselves.”

For military-connected students of all ages though, a parent’s best indicator on how to answer the proactive communication question is the student’s placement in the Season of TransitionTM.  In each season it is good to encourage students of all ages to use student-initiated communication, but often proactive communication from parents is critical to how quickly the student progresses to the Season of Thriving.

Season of Leaving

The Season of Leaving calls for both proactive communication by the parent and student. When parents are ready to disclose that PCS orders are here, it is time to reach out to the teacher to ensure he knows of the upcoming move. This can be done via the student or the parent so long as communication is also open between parent and teacher. Be open both about social and academic concerns.

“What skills do we need to focus on to be sure my daughter is ready for a new school?”

“We are living in a hotel with no quiet place to do homework.”

Talk about ways to help the student say goodbye in healthy ways. Work together to prepare the student for the new school and new curriculum expectations. Request the teacher write a teacher-to-teacher letter for use at the new school. Discuss with the student how to help him finish his time at this school feeling successful and confident for a new school location.

Season of Arriving

In the Season of Arriving, proactive communication from parents is particularly essential. In this season A parent should connect with the teacher before the student’s first day at a new school and again at the two-week point. At registration, parents should give the school the student’s Education Binder, which includes the teacher-to-teacher letter, information about past schools, experiences, accomplishments, and challenges. Schedule a short conference for the second week of school to introduce to discuss any class placement challenges or integration with peers. Being respectful of the child’s personality, try phrasing challenges into positive discussions.

“My daughter had a strong group friends and was active in clubs at our last school, what is the best way for her to become active here at this school?”

“My son is repeating classwork here. Will the curriculum move to a new skill soon or is there a better fit for his needs?”

In the conference, set a plan and timeline of when the school anticipates the student should feel fully integrated with friends and the classwork. Discuss ways the school encourages all students to approach teachers on especially challenging days; and set the student up for productive conversations with teachers.

Season of Growing

The Season of Growing calls for both proactive parent- and student-initiated communication. By the time a student reaches the Season of Growing, teachers and classmates may forget the military-connected student is still new. A buddy program that helped the student in the Season of Arriving is ending, and the student is on his own to navigate his school experience, to connect with friends and with learning.

Discuss ways the school encourages all students to approach teachers on especially challenging days; and set the student up for productive conversations with teachers.

The goal of the student-advocacy team is to encourage students to work toward self-advocacy, and to help them use student-initiated communication successfully. In this case a parent can use proactive communication with the student, encouraging and helping him or her to seek solutions.

If your daughter’s classes are too far apart, and she’s having trouble getting to classes on time, encourage her to speak to her teachers to set a plan for success.

If your straight-A-student son is coming home with D’s and C’s, encourage him to speak to the teacher about tutoring programs.

Parents should be prepared to step in with proactive Communications to be sure the student receives the help he needs and not wait for a challenge to create lasting consequences. In this season, it is still vital for parents and teachers, as well as students, to partner on topics like gaps or overlaps in learning. Consider that perhaps this season is exactly why teachers give parents their contact information in the first week of school.

Season of Thriving

The Season of Thriving is prime time for student-initiated communication. In this season the student is fully integrated into her school, probably has one or more committed friends, and is adjusted to the curriculum. Feeling confident to approach teachers directly and participating in extra activities are good markers that the student has reached the Season of Thriving. Communication between parents and teachers occurs less often. Students are ready and able to use student-initiated communication.

“I was invited to apply for a student leadership camp, but first I have to talk to my teachers about missing five days of class.”

“I don’t understand the assignment. Can I come in after lunch for help?”

This does not mean that parents and teachers stop initiating communication. The partnership between teachers and parents continues, as does the work of the student-advocacy team. In every season, the team continues to support the student’s ability to initiate communication and advocate for themselves. Then parents and teachers can enjoy seeing the student grow in confidence and independence.

Amanda Trimillos, EdD, is a military spouse, mother, National Board-Certified Teacher, and the coauthor of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers.