teacher with kids

Florida’s top teachers offer tips for new year


It’s back-to-school time, and parents are once again working to set students up for success. We are rolling back bedtimes, shopping for school supplies and considering breakfasts that will keep them full until lunchtime — all the pieces that feel in our control. But what about one of the biggest variables: their teachers? What can parents do to get things off to a good start there?

According to PTA research, the best predictor of student success is the extent to which families encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education.

We asked that question to the 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year and the four Teacher of the Year finalists. Each and every one of them expressed the importance of good communication.

  • Support their learning at home.

“Research shows children do better in school when parents talk often with their child’s teachers and become involved in their child’s school,” said Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota County. “It is essential for students to see that a teacher and a parent are committed and united to ensure their students’ success. The best question a parent can ask a teacher is, ‘How can I help support my child’s learning at home?’ ”

  • Set clear expectations.

“Parents can get off to a good start with their child’s teachers by having an open and honest conversation about the expectations of the teacher, student and parents,” added Brittany Brown, a third- and fourth-grade language arts teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in Sumter County. “This will allow everyone involved to understand the role that they play in student achievement. Parents should be ready and willing to ask any questions that they may have. If they can make it to the school for a face-to-face meeting within the first two weeks of school, that would be great and would help tremendously with building relational capacity between school and home.”

  • Schedule a parent-teacher meeting.

Francisco Garaitonandia, an art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School in Volusia County, said that “requesting a parent teacher meeting is always a good thing” and apps like Zoom, FaceTime, Teams and WhatsApp are great options for busy parents. (He is less of a fan of other technology, warning that “the popular video games that everybody is playing at school may not be safe or age appropriate,” and parents should be wary of games that allow interaction with people outside the home.) Finally, parents should model a positive attitude toward learning, he said.

“In our daily life we try to make life easier, not harder, but in learning we use difficulty as an opportunity for growth. We want our students to grow from challenges. Getting it wrong is OK,” Garaitonandia said. “Let your child acquire a growth mindset both at school and at home.”

  • Have a mindset of shared responsibility.

Sarah Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Pinellas County and the 2022 Teacher of the Year, said engaged parents understand that they share the responsibility to help meet educational goals with teachers.

“We can only do that when we form and maintain an ongoing partnership throughout the year,” she said. “The secret to success, in my opinion, is to assume goodwill on both parts to make the most of the opportunity to collaborate for the greater good of the student.”

  • Help teachers understand your child.

“I find that when parents reach out to their child’s teacher and offer support for the teacher, the child benefits,” said Jim Schmitt, a history teacher at Mandarin High School in Duval County. “I welcome a hello, a comment, a concern, or a sharing email to help me ‘see’ their child. Often, as a teacher, I see the outside of the student first; parents can help me to understand the inside as I work with their child.”

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