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How to Successfully Engage with Parents in the Classroom

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In working with hundreds of new teachers as a mentor and instructional coach, the one topic that comes up every time is communication and collaboration with parents. Funny enough, when talking to my friends and family who are parents, the hot topic of discussion in regards to school and their kids is communication and collaboration with teachers.

The disconnect between teacher and parent communication is evident. But who is to blame?

Many teachers do not know WHAT to communicate or HOW to collaborate with parents. On the other side of the equation, many parents don’t know how to initiate the communication they desire and in turn interpret the lack of communication from teachers as a lack of interest in parental input.

Both sides- teachers and parents- are stuck in communication stalemate resulting in no action at all. So who is to blame? The answer is…they both are.

The fact is, the relationship between teachers and parents is highly important for student success in the classroom. Therefore, it’s the utmost responsibility of both the educator and the parent to find a way to open up the dialogue and get to work as soon as possible for the betterment of the child.

In focusing on the role of the teacher, below are some ideas for how and what to communicate so that parents are partners in the education of their child.

How to Communicate

  1. Newsletter– Share classroom updates on a consistent basis with a newsletter. This weekly or monthly communication tool keeps parents up-to-date on what is happening in the classroom and around the school.
  2. Website– Similar to a newsletter, a class website allows information to be at the fingertips of the parents who can access it at their own convenience. This requires daily updating on the part of the teacher, but is a faster delivery method than a paper newsletter.
  3. Texting App/Email– Many parents are on the go, and the best way to get information to them is to send a text message or email. Many apps are available to allow teachers to text without giving out their personal information, such as their phone number (try the Remind app!). This helps protect teachers from being at the mercy of a parent request at all hours of the night or weekend. Email is another avenue that parents prefer as it also is quicker than a newsletter as well as doesn’t take as much time to locate a specific website in order to correspond.
  4. Homework Agenda– Many schools purchase agendas for students to write down their homework and teachers use the agenda as a communication tool. Teachers simply write a note on the calendar day in the agenda for parents to see that evening and respond back. It makes for a great back and forth communication log.
  5. Graded Work– Sending home graded work on a consistent basis ensures parents are aware of academic progress of their child before progress reports or report cards are sent home. This helps avoid any surprises! Parents can even comment about particulars on an assignment to gain better understanding to help at home.
  6. Room Parents– A great way to build relationships with parents is to invite them into the classroom as a room parent. This role allows the parent to adopt the classroom and help run special classroom events such as holiday parties, parent phone tree, etc.
  7. Instructional Showcase– Parents love to see their kid’s learning in action so invite parents in to show off student work. This can be a ceremony, performance or a gallery walk of student work. It’s a great way to celebrate all that the students have been learning and parents love to see their child’s academic progression as the year goes on.
  8. Conferences– This is the standard communication form at most schools and is a dedicated time for parents to come to the school, meet with the teacher and discuss their child in a private conversation in the classroom. However, it is highly encouraged to have numerous communication opportunities prior to this meeting. During this meeting, an update on academic and behavior is expected as well as tips on what parents can do at home to help support the child. Lastly, don’t forget to take parent questions or concerns during the meeting as this is a safe place to air out any “issues.”
  9. Student Drop-Off/Pick-Up– Although this is an informal way to communicate with parents, sometimes the everyday run-in can make or break a relationship. Be sure to smile, wave and share a quick comment with parents. Being present and aware of parents makes you approachable for potential conversations to occur.
  10. School Functions– These events can get pretty hectic quickly, but it’s another opportunity for you to be available to parents for questions, comments or just an enjoyable conversation. Be present and willing to indulge in them. However, this is not the time to discuss private topics such as specific information on academics or behavior concerns as others are around.

What to Communicate

*A Quick Note- In order to protect privacy, be sure to only discuss the related student with that parent. Keep other student names or performance details out of the conversation.

  1. Student Academic Performance- Sharing data points with parents is important so that the picture is clear in terms of how the student is performing against standards (state, district, school comparisons), as well as the skill set growth that is occurring throughout the year. Understanding the bar that is set as well as how the student measures up is extremely important.
  2. Student Behavior Trends- Similar to academic performance, sharing particulars about student behavior is important. Many parents want to know that their child is following school and classroom rules and treating others with respect. Sharing classroom rules is helpful so parents can guide their children in better decision making within the classroom.
  3. State or District Initiatives- Many parents are not educators so having someone explain state or district initiatives in everyday lingo can be helpful. Most parents want to know the rationale for change so being able to showcase why something you are doing for their child is recommended eases their fears. Plus, their support in what you are doing in the classroom is always appreciated.
  4. Curriculum Programs & Techniques- Similar to the state or district initiatives, curriculum can be super confusing to parents. Right now, the Common Core Standards are a hot topic discussed among teachers and parents, especially in the subject of mathematics. Sharing the purpose of a chosen program, its materials or techniques is beneficial again so parents can best support the work teachers do in the classroom. Demonstrating a technique for parents or having a student do it live is an excellent idea!
  5. Testing Information- State testing can be nerve wracking for all involved, so having specifics about the test can ease the anxiety. Besides the logistical details, sharing test taking methods, ways to practice at home, and performance expectations will allow parents to mentally prepare for the “big event.”  Sharing typical problems seen on the test also helps parents know what to work on at home with their child.
  6. School Function Details-  The school year is busy with extra curriculars- plays, clubs, performances, festivals, parades, etc. Engaging parents in planning or preparing the event is a great way to build connections. Sharing details way in advance of the event encourages parent attendance as well. Lots of great conversations can be had during these events so be sure to be available for parent questions or comments.
  7. Special Classroom Events- Parents love to see their child in their learning environment, so inviting parents in during the school day is exciting. Set up opportunities for students to showcase their skills with a Poetry Slam, Thanksgiving Reenactment or even a holiday party! Field Trips are also a fun way to invite parents along the academic ride while also opening up for communication and collaboration. If you are really wanting to spice things up, invite the parents in to show off their skills with a Career Day!
  8. Grade Level Expectations- It’s no secret that certain grade levels are harder than others. That’s because the expectations increase causing a large gap for students to close. For example, the jump from 2nd to 3rd grade is daunting for most students as the requirements for independence, organization, and multi-tasking increase tremendously. Plus, the pace of instruction and decrease in 1:1 help for all students can be hard to get used to at first. Sharing the expectations (and again those rationales) will help parents not only support the work teachers are doing in the classroom, but mimic expectations at home so students are stepping up their game in all areas of their life.
  9. Academic Support Tips- As mentioned in most of the ideas above, parents just want to know how they can help. Just like some teachers aren’t sure what information to communicate with parents, many parents want to help but don’t know how. Sharing homework structures and supports is a good first step. Showing parents academic methods and techniques help them understand concepts and can reinforce that strategy at home. The more that they can transfer classroom skills to the home, the better off everyone is!
  10. Reiterate Parent Concerns- Lastly, parents are mostly concerned when they don’t fully understand something. When teachers are approachable, encourage correspondence and listen to parent concerns, the relationship blossoms. Many parents might even say, “I don’t understand, but I trust you because you care so much for my kid and do an excellent job teaching him/her.” This lets you know they can’t quite wrap their head around the topic at hand, but are willing to pass the responsibility on to you and fully back you up so that their child thrives. That occurs because you have built trust and the relationship continues to develop.

The theme here is communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s rare for a parent to ask you to stop communicating, but it’s extremely popular for a parent to ask you to start/keep communicating. The tips for how and what to communicate are teacher and parent approved, so dive in and give a few a try. You do not need to do them all, but you do need to do something. The sooner you start, the better off the relationship will be between all stakeholders. Wishing you a successful year of collaboration!

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What parent-teacher communication idea(s) would you add to the list?

 

About the author, Gretchen

I am an educator, passionate about cultivating talent in aspiring and new teachers through practical tips and strategies. My blog, book, and podcast are geared towards empowering teachers to enter the profession and stay there due to the advice and encouragement I provide. We have a real need in our nation for strong leaders in classrooms, and I believe its my calling and duty to coach teachers to achieve and maintain best teaching practices in order to drive the growth and success of our students in and outside the classroom.