This week’s blog post writer is Molly Kiebel. Molly is a Curriculum & Instruction Specialist with Learners Edge. Prior to joining the Edge, Molly was a high school English language arts teacher. Molly loves helping teachers and students find new ways to grow! Whenever time allows, you’ll find her enjoying the great Minnesota outdoors with her husband and two daughters.
The parent-teacher relationship is often one of the biggest challenges that new and experienced teachers face, yet it is the area thatmany teachers feel the least prepared. In today’s technology age, parents have increased opportunities to be informed about their child’s education. Thus, it becomes crucial that teachers work to ensure that parent communication is constructive, clear and promotes a partnership established on mutual respect and trust. Read on to learn more about connection strategies and overcoming hurdles to help reduce your teacher stress and start the year off right with your students’ parents.
Effective parent communication begins with connecting early and often.Experienced educators know that their first contact with families should be positive and welcoming. Make every effort to communicate with parents before school begins or duringthe first week of class. Let families know from the start that you appreciate their time and consider them partners in their children’s education. When you build relationships with parents, you build a stronger learning community, and if academic or behavior problems do arise in the future, you are more likely to receive positive support.
Tools and Strategies to Build Connections
A positive first impression is important in building connections with families. Before you decide which tools and strategies to use, consider your own strengths. Is e-mail your preferred communication style? Do you favor the personal touch of a phone call or face-to-face discussion? Do you enjoy the creativity of a print-based newsletter? Will you have the time to maintain a classroom website? Try to start the year the way you want to end the year: you are more likely to keep up with communications if they fit your style.
Here are a few ideas to get you started!
1. Start With a Strong Foundation
One of the simplest ways to engage parents in their child’s education is to send home a weekly or monthly newsletter. It’s the perfect opportunity to share with parents what activities are happening inside the classroom and highlight upcoming events or projects. When you share news about the entire classroom, it also helps parents understand that you are responsible for more than just their student. This awareness can be helpful if you make decisions that are best for the group, but may not please a single student or family.
Bonus: Newsletters are also a great way to unify communication and ensure that everyone is on the same page. It can be especially helpful for multi-lingual families.
2. Take It Digital
More and more schools are providing their teachers with online platforms to share classroom news. The easiest step in going digital is to take advantage of the tools already in place at your school: classroom websites, group e-mails, and online gradebooks make connecting easier. Consider trying one of the apps created just for classroom teachers. Bloomz and Remind are popular choices. Remind allows teachers to text individual students, parents, or groups and is popular with high school teachers. Bloomz has a few more bells and whistles. The app includes organizational features like class calendars and digital sign-up sheets, and parents can comment on or “like” posts, just as they do on Facebook. Bloomz also allows parents to communicate directly with one another. It is a popular app with elementary and middle school teachers. Both apps can be accessed from your smart phoneor desktop computer.
3. Seek Parent Input
Let parents know you value their perspective by asking them more about their students. In the first few weeks of school, send a parent survey home. Survey questions can include student profiles, e.g. “What activities does your child enjoy?” or “What was your child like as a toddler?” It can also include questions regarding communication preferences, such as “What is your preferred communication,” or “What is the best time of the day to reach you?”
This information can help you get to know each student as a person and learner. It’s also useful when planning lessons. Even though parents are just as busy as teachers, most are eager to share information about their child. Seeking the advice of parents shows respect and helps gain and sustain their support. The students also get a kick out of reading what their parents wrote about them!
4. Encourage Student Involvement
Another way to build connections between home and school is through student letter-writing. Ask students to create a “parent” section in their notebooks or binders. At least twice a month, have students write a short note to their parents. Ask students to describe their work, share their achievements, and reflect on problems or concerns. Encourage parents to respond to their student’s letters whenever they have time. Students benefit from these moments to reflect and share, and enlisting their participation can help you stay on top of your communication goals during busy weeks!
To expand on this concept, have students include work samples with their letters. Pick assignments that demonstrate a variety of skills: creativity, individual thought, or grade-level skills. Teach students how to assess and comment on their own work and share their work with their parents. What a great way for students to share their learning at home!
Are you an organization rockstar? Own it! Every week, choose 2-3 students and write a handwritten note about the students’ achievements to include in this section. If you choose different students each time, you can provide positive feedback to the whole class at least a few times each semester.
5. Long-term Success
Communicating with parents effectively can be challenging even for experienced teachers, but the effort is worth it. Some of the best advice I received as a new teacher was to provide honest and specific feedback to parents about students’ strengths and weaknesses. My principal heard from parents all the time who loved their child’s teacher, but wished she or he would be more up-front about areas for growth. Parents want a balanced view and along with it, practical steps to help their children succeed.
Parents should always feel welcome to contact you with questions or concerns, but if a parent’s calls or e-mails become overwhelming, address the situation. If the concern is warranted, remember to provide specific details and practical solutions. If a concern is unwarranted, reassure parents that their child is behaving properly and progressing socially and academically, and be willing to provide details to calm a parent’s fears.
Lastly, remember that often a phone call is the best form of communication. In this digital world, nothing can replace the power of a personal conversation. If there is a chance your tone may be misinterpreted in text or e-mail, or you really need a parent’s support to move forward, reach out and make this connection. Your life and your students’ lives are better when everyone works together.
Looking for more tips and tricks to effectively communicate with parents? Download our Parent Partnerships 101 content paper for additional tipsto help you build positive parent relationships.
Next week in part four of our August Anxiety series, we will examine strategies for managingyour own anxiety and finding that elusive work/life balance.
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