5 Rules for Meeting with Your School Principal

Now that your kids are in elementary school, you’re discovering a new set of concerns. There are grades and report cards, bullies, teachers changing every year, and new subjects to learn.

Maybe you’re just entering Kindergarten and the orientation didn’t really quite answer all your questions. Or you’d like to discuss academic performance, better understand the discipline and reward system, or have had a run in with the class menace. You need to talk to someone and you feel like the school principal might be the one.

A visit to the school principal’s office doesn’t have to be the angst-ridden ordeal of your childhood days. There will be no reprimanding, no detention doled out, and no shaming. That is, if you follow some basic codes of conduct.

Rule #1 Determine the Appropriateness of Your Visit

When it comes to visiting the principal, there are topics that warrant a discussion and ones that are simply a waste of time. Be aware that your school principal has a booked agenda. He or she is in charge of shaping the school’s philosophy and academic vision. He needs ample time to focus on being the school’s leader – managing new hires and professional development for teachers. She also develops and implements school-wide programs, reviews policies and procedures, manages various committees, and of course deals with student discipline.

Principals are in service to the school as a whole – not to each and every parent’s whim. They are not there to carry out your every demand. They don’t have the time to hear about the quirks of all the students under their direction. They don’t want to see baby pictures. They don’t have time for tea . . . at least, not usually.

So how do you know if your discussion topic is worth a visit?

Topics that Meet the Principal’s Approval

If your discussion topic falls within these categories, book a meeting!

School philosophy: Whether you have an incoming Kindergartener or you’re new to the district, you would like to learn more about the school’s philosophy, its vision, and its academics.

Special needs: You’re concerned about your children’s academic performance. Perhaps they’ve consistently performed below grade level – or above it. You have already spoken to your child’s teacher and feel that your child has special needs. You feel that some additional testing and evaluation is in order.

Discipline: You feel that your child is regularly in trouble but you don’t know why. You’d like more information to help support the school’s policies – or simply to understand the problem better.

Unusual family circumstances: There’s been a new event in your family (death, divorce, separation, etc.) that could potentially impact your children’s performance and their behavior.

Class bully and other obstacles: You’ve seen a change in your children’s attitude toward school. Whereas they used to be eager, they’re now showing signs of fear or reluctance when it comes to going to school. You may already know what the issue is, or simply want help in discovering its source.

Committee participation, fundraising, and new programs: You’re wondering how you can help contribute to your child’s school. Perhaps you’d like to learn about parent-run committees, would like to participate in fundraisers, or have a great idea to refurbish the cafeteria.

Gratitude: You’ve found that the school has had a wonderfully positive impact on your children – maybe it was all thanks to your children’s counselor, their homeroom teacher, the art teacher, or even the principal himself. Too often, principals only hear about issues or problems . . . go to them with your gratitude too.

Topics Best Left to Caffeine-laden Rap Sessions

If your discussion topic seems highly important to you but falls within the categories below, you just might want to reconsider a meeting just yet.

Report card and classroom concerns: If you’re worried about your children’s performance on a particular test or their ability to keep up in a subject matter, book a meeting with your child’s teacher. The teacher knows your child way better academically than the principal does. They’ll be able to help you find ways to support your child’s learning in a practical and positive way.

Playdates and social relationships: If you’re looking to augment your child’s circle of friends, again talk to your teacher instead. They’ll better be able to help pair your child with some good friends and will know the ins and outs of the classroom dynamic.

Unrealistic performance issues: If your child is not performing up to your standards but is falling nicely within grade-level, don’t make it the principal’s problem. Again, the principal is there in the interest of the whole school, not to help your child perform two percentage points higher.

Requesting specific teachers: You may have heard that Mr./Mrs. So-and-So is the best teacher in year three or that everyone should avoid room B2. Do yourself a favor . . . do not go to the principal with any special teacher requests. In fact, that’s probably the best way to ensure you will not be getting the teacher you so desire. Creating an effective classroom requires taking in many factors like the age of kids, their gender, academic abilities, and so on. If a principal took parent requests, it would be a complete and total disaster!

Griping: Remember there are children and parents at the school with really big concerns. Put your problems in perspective. If your child is having issues with another kid at school, first try to find ways to resolve the problem through the teacher or parents. If your problem is with the teacher, speak directly to the teacher first and escalate only when necessary. But please, keep trivial problems like Ms. Smith doesn’t like Jenny or Mr. Hutch never calls on Jimmy out of the principal’s office.

Rule #2 Request a Meeting in the Right Format

Does your school have a procedure for requesting meetings? Perhaps there’s a form that needs to be filled out in the front office or all meetings need to be booked through the school’s secretary . . . or maybe a simple email will do. Inform yourself about the preferred format for booking meetings (your teacher or the front office should be able to help).

When you reach out, be flexible in your dates. A principal’s schedule is overbooked, remember? Have a few different dates and times that would work for you on hand and be prepared to move some of the items in your own schedule around.

When requesting your meeting, provide information on the purpose from the get-go. That way, if the principal needs to pull some information together, she will already have it on hand. You’ll be better able to make productive use of your meeting time and the principal will be in the right frame of mind to discuss your concerns.

Rule #3 Be Prepared to Jump into Your Topic

Prior to your meeting, get your facts together as well as you can. For example, if you’re looking to discuss participating on a committee, identify the parents who are already involved first. Get information on which committees are out there and learn how your skill set might be able to help – or be ready to make a business case for the new committee you were hoping to plan. How will the Fall Festival you’re dreaming of help the school and its community? What are the projected costs and profit?

If your concerns are instead about a teacher or student in the class, pull together your facts. What happened and when? How was it dealt with? What steps have you already taken, etc.?

Similarly, for special needs, have copies of previous evaluations, if any, on hand. Get statements from doctors or previous teachers. Consider inviting your current teacher to the meeting as well.

Rule #4 Show Common Courtesy

Whatever the history of your situation and no matter how difficult it may be on you and your child, be polite. It isn’t going to help your case to go in on the offensive. Your principal may not know anything about the situation. Give him the benefit of the doubt and remember, that in all likelihood, he took on the job of school principal out of passion and interest in education. He is there to help.

Don’t go in with the attitude that everyone is out to get you, or that they don’t or can’t understand your situation. These people are professionals with years of experience under their belts. Give them a chance to hear you out in a well-spoken, calm, and solution-oriented voice.

Don’t demand or blame or point fingers. Be an advocate for your child – show respect and professionalism in your manner. And of course, be mindful of the principal’s time!

Rule #5 Demonstrate Gratitude

Regardless of the outcome of your meeting, send along a thank-you card (or email) to express gratitude for her time. You’re building a long-term relationship with your school’s leader, and taking the step to recognize her effort will go a long way.

Even if you feel that you weren’t able to see entirely eye-to-eye in the meeting, you’ll be able to keep the dialogue open and revisit the topic when you can gather together some more information and better state your case.

And most of all, always remember you’re putting yourself out there for your child. Be a great advocate and an even better listener. Fight for your cause but be open to different perspectives. Listen to your gut but don’t be narrow-minded in your advocacy. And keep it a conversation – rants are better left out of the office.

What are your rules for an effective meeting with the principal? Share your lessons learned with us!

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