By establishing open communication with the teacher, you can keep up with your child’s progress throughout the year—and that means fewer surprises when report card day comes around.

We talked with Rosemarie Young, past president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals and principal for more than 20 years at Watson Lane Elementary in Louisville, Ky., for tips on how parents can communicate effectively with teachers.

What's the value in having good communication between parents and teachers?

It creates a partnership that benefits the child. Good communication between home and school helps both the teachers and the school do their jobs better. And maintaining strong communication helps parents better understand teachers’ expectations for academic work and behavior. “If academic assistance is necessary,” Young says, “strong communications can facilitate support from home.” If behavior issues arise, good communication can help deal with or eliminate the inappropriate behavior.

Is communication between parents and teachers also beneficial for students?

“Definitely!” says Young. Parents who communicate effectively with the teacher are able to support their child with whatever they’re learning. Plus, getting involved communicates respect for education and the value it adds to your child’s future. Your child, meanwhile, understands that you’ll follow up and check on her progress and work.

Supportive parents often find that teachers are willing to go above and beyond. Teachers might send home daily notes or provide regular progress reports, modified assignments, or special conference times to help a child succeed. In addition, Young adds, “Parents who communicate high expectations and value for education will have children who are eager to go to school, maintain good attendance, and work hard in school.”

What are the most effective ways to establish open communication?

“Attend any open houses and orientation sessions for the school,” Young recommends. “Introduce yourself and let the teacher know you are supportive and want to be involved.” If you want to talk in more depth, schedule an appointment for another time. Use any methods of school-home communication used by the teacher, such as a planner or other reporting system. “Take advantage of parent-teacher conference opportunities. And if the teacher calls, be sure to return the call or set up an appointment to meet face to face.”

Are there ways of approaching teachers or asking questions that make it harder to work together?

One pitfall parents should avoid is accusing the teacher of something they aren’t sure has actually happened. “There are two sides to every story, and the best way to deal with situations that you question is to talk directly with the teacher,” Young says.

Also, don’t put the teacher in a situation where you are making unrealistic demands, such as by asking for special treatment for your child or for information that doesn’t pertain to your child. “Trust the teacher to use her best professional judgment,” Young advises. “Approach problematic situations with openness and a genuine willingness to listen and work through the situation.”

What kinds of things are helpful for teachers to know that they might not learn without a good relationship with parents?

Teachers always appreciate knowing whether there have been any changes in the home or family situation. This information might explain a change in behavior at school, and with a little understanding, the teacher can help guide the child through a difficult or stressful situation. Teachers also would like to know when a child is experiencing difficulties at school—“changes in attitude, anxiety, peer difficulties, anything that might affect the student’s work or behavior,” Young explains. “The child might not share this with the teacher, and these issues are important for the teacher to know.” If your child repeatedly voices a concern about school, be sure to share this information with the teacher.

What questions should parents be asking teachers?

“Certainly ask the teacher about your child’s academic work: strengths, areas in need of improvement, current level, and academic focus of the classroom,” Young says. “If your child is having any academic difficulties, ask about specific things you can do to support your child at home.” In addition, ask the teacher how she views your child’s emotional and social skills, whom your child socializes with, and how he relates with peers and adults. Does your child exhibit a good attitude toward learning? Does he make a good effort on the assignments? Is your child able to work both in groups and independently? How does her level of achievement compare with other students in the same age group?

How should parents expect to be treated if they approach a teacher fairly and openly?

“Parents can expect the teacher to keep them apprised of each child’s progress and the child’s strengths and areas in need of improvement,” Young says. “Certainly, any concerns or questions should be answered honestly and completely. Keeping the channels of communication open enables school and home to work together for the child’s benefit.”