There are lots of details to keep in mind when sending children back to school. Some involve amassing physical materials such as supplies, textbooks, new clothes and shoes, lunch and snack fixings, etc. Some involve easing the emotional transitions, like quelling fears and anxieties, establishing new routines, providing encouragement and support. Another extremely important task that requires ongoing attention, particularly for Muslim parents, is establishing a strong home to school connection. And there are a number of reasons to do so.
There is a wealth of information about the challenges of Islamophobia for Muslim students. Research confirms that about half of our children experience faith-based bullying in an education setting. The negative attention and bias is reported to come from students, teachers, and administrators. That’s why a strong home to school connection is critically important. By establishing a relationship you can provide important information, dispel myths or stereotypes, offer assistance, provide support, and stay tuned in to what is happening inside the classroom and outside of it. And the need is the same no matter the child’s age at our elementary, middle, and high schools.
Tips to Establish a Connection
Many parents are prone to communicating directly with their child’s teacher when children are very young. But that connection is important at every age and stage of a child’s education. It just may differ a bit to keep the communication age-appropriate. Here are some tips on how to establish a strong home to school connection.
1. Plan to attend school functions.
Many schools plan a Back-to-School Night and that may be either in person or held virtually this year. Make a plan to attend. This type of event is designed for nurturing the ties between the school and the home. You are likely to get a tour and have an opportunity to visit the classroom to meet your child’s teacher(s). These types of meetings indirectly and directly establish the importance that school staff and parents play in a child’s education. Be sure to introduce yourself, maybe even bring a small gift to contribute to the classroom (school supplies, stickers, etc.) or for the teacher him/herself (candy, gift certificate, motivational quote, etc).
There will be other events, too, like PTA or PTSA (parent-teacher-student association) meetings, parent-teacher conferences, pep rallys, sporting events, school plays, etc. Being present gives the school administrators and staff an opportunity to know you and for you to contribute and support the work at hand, too. That is a win for yourself and your school. But it doesn’t stop there. Your interest in and presence at the school sends an important message to your child as well - that the place where s/he spends the bulk of their day is important to you and by extension, what happens in that place is important, too. That makes it a win-win-win for all involved!
2. Communicate one-on-one.
If you are unable to attend the scheduled meet-and-greet event, communicate to the teacher(s) with a note or request an appointment to visit the classroom. A hand-written note can be delivered by your child or sent via email or whatever online communication tool may be used by the school. If you are interested in meeting in person, be mindful that things are super busy for teachers in the first weeks of school. There is a strict schedule that teachers follow to begin and end class on time and there are often required meetings that teachers are expected to attend at the end of the school day. Communication is extremely important but the consideration you also display will go a long way, too!
3. Share information about your child and family.
Think about details that are important for your teacher to know about your child to nurture success. This can relate to academics, physical or emotional challenges, food allergies, and even preferences. These can include anything from checking in directly to ensure the child understands if s/he is reluctant to ask questions or alerting the teacher that the child may be embarrassed to ask to use the restroom. For older children, this may be relaying information about past experiences or learning challenges.
Muslim parents should also provide information about Islam. Most teachers in public schools will not be Muslims. Some will know about Islamic practices and prohibitions and some will not. Some will also not assume your child is Muslim, particularly if there is nothing about you and your family that makes that visibly apparent (like girls or women wearing hijab). And don’t assume they will get any clues from your names. In many regions of the world, there are Muslims and non-Muslims named Ahmad and Aliya. There are specific details you should mention to your child’s teacher including:
- Dietary restrictions (no pork products or alcohol, including items that contain them)
- Attendance at Friday prayers (for older children)
- Attention to daily prayer times
- Family practices related to music or television
- Participation in holiday celebrations (Eid holidays or secular holiday observances)
- Considerations when fasting
There is also general information about Islam that you can and should provide. Here are some nice resources available online:
- Educators Toolkit - This comprehensive toolkit from the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding includes information on Islam, Islamophobia, bullying, and much more.
- Lesson Plans for K-12, Colleges, and Universities - Lesson plans have been designed by ing.org to teach about basic information about Islam.
- Videos and Articles - The Consortium for Educational Resources on Islamic Studies has collected videos and articles on Islamic history, contemporary issues, and influential Muslims.
4. Be present and volunteer to help.
There is a ton of work that goes into providing a welcoming learning environment and enriching curriculum for all students. Make yourself available and helpful. If there is a call for volunteers, sign-up in whatever capacity you can. If there is a need for additional supplies or special snacks, offer to bring or make them. Notice areas that may need attention - offer to spruce up a flower bed, read books in the classroom, take playground duty at lunchtime, etc. And when in doubt, make it known that you are ready to help when and where ever needed.
5. Make inquiries when you have questions or concerns.
One mistake parents commonly make is taking a hands-off approach until there is a problem. It will always be helpful to have a relationship established before concerns or challenges surface. That said, if you have questions or concerns, it is best to inquire about them right away, particularly if your child complains about problems with assignments, fellow students, students they do not know, or teachers. When wading into those conversations with a teacher or administrator, collect information rather than accuse. Be prepared to also share the details that you have learned from your child. The best possible outcome is to work together to arrive at a solution or strategic plan going forward.
6. Express your appreciation and gratitude.
Teachers are expected to keep young minds curious and attentive, deliver creative content, manage a classroom, and juggle the diverse needs of their students. Every day. And it is a tough job. Be sure to show your appreciation on a regular basis. When your child relays that they were excited about something that happened at school or when they were excited by a project, take the time to say thanks. Small gestures like a hand-written note, small gifts or gift certificates, and offering your help and services can all do the trick.
The best means to a successful school year is for parents and teachers to join forces, to collaborate and cooperate for the good of their students and children. Make sure you step forward with these tips and strategies to establish and maintain a strong home to school connection throughout the upcoming school year.
May Allah assist in making the school year productive and filled with learning and opportunity. Ameen.