As a long distance parent, staying organized for school is a slightly hairier mess. You don’t have little voices around telling you to remember the bake sale. Because out of sight, out of mind, it’s easy to get out of touch with what’s happening in school. Good organization at the beginning of the school year can keep school top of mind for you and open the door for self advocacy to stay involved.
Worse, poor organization on your part can mean you miss out on visitation later. If you haven’t done the math on when hockey camp is versus when your summer visitation is ahead of time, you’ll wind up in a very emotional lose lose conversation later.
Get Organized for the Year
First things first. Here is a letter to send to the school to remind them of your rights as a parent. You should send this at the beginning of each school year, just to be safe. At the beginning of the school year, here are the necessary pieces of information to have :
- School address and phone number
- Teacher(s’) name(s)
- Teacher(s’) contact information
- Class schedule
- School calendar
- School handbook – gain understanding on grading periods, testing etc
- Principal, Vice Principal and School Counselor’s names and contact information
A whole lot of this is in the parent portal these days. If you sent the template letter, you requested access to the parent portal. Make sure you follow up and get access to that.
Organizing the Correspondence
Getting papers organized for school might be less of an issue if you’re primarily using email. But if you get papers from school, it’s good to keep them at least until the end of the year. If they are artwork or writing by your child, you may want to keep them longer. If they are unimportant date-based notes, you can probably trash them sooner.
What isn’t an option is simply tossing what you get from the school. Any small piece of correspondence could contain information you don’t have yet because you aren’t the primary parent.
Keep a binder, folder or letter tray for your child’s school information, progress reports etc, that come in paper form, for that year. At the end of the year, close it up, stash it and start a new one.
I preferred a 3 ring binder because it kept everything securely inside. I’d stash stuff in the binder and then once in a while, punch holes in it and put it on the rings.
In email, create a tag, label or folder. Create an auto-filter that will automatically tag, label or store all relevant school correspondence in that ‘bucket’. You can even have your email program highlight these or keep them at the top of your email. If you’re an automation fan, you can set up a rule in ifttt to text you when you get email from the principal, for example.
Organizing the Dates
I don’t know about you but for me, if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening. I simply do not remember to do things on a specific date without seeing it on my calendar. Without the advantage of hearing about it from your child after school every day, you may miss the ticklers of upcoming events.
Pull up the school calendar for the year and add all of the school calendar dates to your calendar. Include your child’s grading periods to your own calendar so that you know when to check in with teachers or the portal on report cards or progress reports.
Once you have them all in, set up calendar or to do list reminders for visitation planning. So, for example, if you need to have their plane tickets purchased a month before their summer vacation, add those reminders now, while their school calendar is on your mind, so that it doesn’t fall off of your radar.
Anytime you get a notice about a school event, make sure goes into your calendar so that you can participate or follow up with your child.
If your child will be playing a sport, in a club or doing some other school related extracurricular, find that info in the portal, if it’s there. Very often this information isn’t in the portal or isn’t there until the activity starts. Sometimes they may even use a different portal altogether. One that is specific to the activity.
You can always ask your child or your co-parent. Sometimes they might not know. A quick curious question to the front office staff usually gets you what you need though.
Once you know the who, what, when, where and how of the extracurricular, add key dates to your own calendar. Look for conflicts with virtual visitation or visitation dates ahead of time. These are often where visitation gets compromised. If they have practice every Wednesday night, for example, and that is when your video chats are, proactively handle it.
Talk to your co-parent about it now, before emotions are involved in the activity. If you have a plan a year ahead of time, it’s tough to lose out on that visitation at the last minute.
Staying involved over time
Getting and staying organized for school is just one (albeit critical) piece of staying involved in your child’s school. Knowing when things are happening and what’s happening gives you the ability to insist upon being involved. The next step is staying involved, which requires self advocacy and inviting yourself.