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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

After seven years in the classroom, I feel I'm in a position to offer some advice for how teachers can build and sustain positive relationships with parents -- as well as appropriately handle difficult circumstances. Following are eight tips that I've learned from experience.

1. Avoid Doing Battle

I always log and take notes on parent phone calls, a good practice in case you need to recall the details of a conversation (or if one took place). When parents get overly angry, emotional or offensive (which rarely happens), I end the conversation quickly but diplomatically: "I hear you’re upset, but I no longer feel comfortable speaking with you on the phone. We should meet face to face, but with an administrator also present." I then report to my department chair. Sometimes, five percent of parents will consume 95 percent of your time.

2. Keep E-Mail Timely and Brief

When I receive e-mail from parents, I reply the very same day. By not responding in a timely fashion, you make your school and yourself look lazy and unprofessional. If the e-mail is anything beyond a simple request, like reminding Johnny to meet for extra help after school, it's always wise to avoid a detailed exchange and request a face-to-face meeting instead. It's remarkably easy to misconstrue tone and meaning via e-mail, which heightens fears and emotions.

3. Post Assignments Online

I post at least four weeks' worth of lessons and assignments online, and they are easily accessible to students and parents alike. Few things hurt a teacher's reputation more than being perceived as unprepared and disorganized. Besides, parents should know what their child is studying, and students should have a clear idea of what they will be learning. On many occasions, this planning has also allowed me to meet with parents and students in advance about how to prepare for more challenging assignments. Moreover, when students miss days of school, neither they nor their parents need to e-mail me about missed work.

4. Involve Parents in Their Children’s Education

Great teachers welcome parent support and curiosity. I've lost track of how many wonderfully positive conversations I've had with parents about my curriculum or assignments. Those conversations morph into how impressed I am with something in particular that Johnny or Sally did or said, letting the parents see that I really know and care about their child. Sometimes, parents ask what they can do to help their child succeed -- and it's crucial that you lay out an approach involving their direct action. Enlist their help as another coach, not as a surrogate.

5. Prepare for a Successful Back-to-School Night

Early on, the best way to earn parent support is to run a successful back-to-school night -- which, in many cases, can be a lot of fun. When speaking to parents, I do my best to bring the same vigor and eagerness I bring to my students in the classroom. I love what I teach, and I make that known not only by what I say, but also by how I say it. I'm animated, talking excitedly about my classes. All the while, I'm careful not to monopolize the short time we have together. I want to hear from the parents. I want to learn their hopes and fears for their student, and how I can support them in our collective mission to help all kids meet their greatest potential.

6. Call Home to Report Good News

Parents rarely receive a positive call home. Twice a semester, I make a point to call and tell them how impressed I am with something their student did or said. It surprises me when parents nervously answer the phone, as if a student did something wrong. They are all the more relieved and proud when I have just good news to report. These calls let parents know that I care as much about recognizing success and improvement as I do about spotting struggle and weakness. These calls also reassure parents that I'm not out to make life more difficult for their child, that I'm fair in my assessments and feedback, and that I genuinely want to see students succeed.

7. Look Professional

Nothing spells "unprofessional" more than a messy-looking teacher, especially when meeting with parents. Since you never know when you might run into a parent, it's a good idea to come to school looking neat and professional. I know some teachers who never come to work without wearing a tie, arguing that a visitor should never have any doubt as to who's in charge. I'm not sold that wearing a tie is essential to accomplishing this task, but it can't hurt -- and it’s an even wiser move for younger teachers, also looking to earn authority in the classroom.

8. Participate in After-School Activities

This could be anything from coaching to attending as a spectator. I coach varsity cross-country, and beyond adoring my engagement with students in a non-academic setting -- which has a host of benefits unto itself -- I enjoy interacting with parents on a daily basis. We speak not only about how their child is doing athletically, but emotionally and academically as well. I can't express how often this rapport has helped me realize how to communicate more effectively with teens, both on the field and inside the classroom.

How should teachers effectively communicate with parents, and involve them in their child's education? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anu's picture
Anu
Founder of ParentSquare

Thank you for this well written post. Parent involvement is important for student success and it starts at home. Teachers and administrators at school can help parents get involved with their child's education by communicating better and welcoming parents as partners. I especially like the line - 'Enlist their help as another coach, not as a surrogate.' A point that goes well in this list and is very powerful is - 'Give parents the opportunity to observe their child in class'.

An important aspect to note regarding technology use for communicating with parents is that it needs to be two-way much like these social tools in use today, so parents not only have a place to gather information as in online assignments, but they can also comment and 'like' and get questions answered.

Rebecca's picture
Rebecca
Communications Specialist

Point #2 is right on! I like the distinction between sending emails for short, to-the-point messages and requesting face-to-face meetings for longer, more detailed discussions. The majority of parents seem to prefer email for communication instead of other methods, and this preference for technology can really help teachers save some time and stress when interacting with parents. I recently wrote a blog post with tips for teachers who struggle with parent communication and how technology helps. http://vingapp.com/ving-edtech-blog/struggle-parent-communication/

Kimberly Brown-McCray's picture

Parental involvement is a make or break situation in the educational world. As an educator I feel that having a relationship with the parents is just as important as the relationship that I have with my students. I like tip #4 as it states to keep the parents involved in their child's education. I send home a weekly newsletter to my parents with the skills for the week along with various "at-home" learning activities that the parents can do at home to reinforce the skills that are being taught with in the classroom. I have received positive feedback from my parents as it keeps them up to date of that is going on in their child's world at school.

Christine's picture
Christine
11-12 th grade teacher Georgia

this article is appreciated. I agree with much if what you say, however, as for the way one dresses. I see so many teachers who are so consumed with appearance, what happened to just dressing appropriately? Simplicity while teaching I find is best, when concerning wardrobe.
I find that having a good learning platform, such as model, itsLearning, or even a website that parents and students can see assignments, upcoming assessments, is incredibly valuable in this day of technology.
Also, a text service, like Remind101, where students can get reminder texts about assignments, due dates, linkers etc. is incredibly helpful! Especially with smart phones where they can be immediately transferred to calendars. Parents can get the text reminders, which helps them feel involved.
I also use twitter to send out posts about assignments, due dates, simple review info, extra credit opportunities.

Jennie W.'s picture
Jennie W.
7th grade Language Arts

One thing that helps me tremendously this year is a free service called Remind101. I can have parents and students sign up for the service with their cell phones. Both can opt to receive texts or email messages. After signing up, which takes less than 5 minutes, I can post any homework assignments or things to know, and both parents and kids will have a quick reminder as to what to do that evening.
Parents especially have been so happy to be able to ask more than, "Do you have any homework?" and the kid will reply, "nothing tonight." Instead, this service gives parents the power to ask, "Where is that essay's rough draft that is due tomorrow?" Even parents who are not able to be home due to late jobs etc. can feel like they are involved and knowledgeable about what is going on at school.
It takes me about one minute to post homework to all classes. It has the capability to send messages to all classes, send a message to a few kids at a time, and attach documents as well. I used to think that kids should just learn responsibility and do their work without hand-holding. I have come to believe that parents just need more power to hold kids accountable at home. My seventh graders can barely hold it together with all the changes they are going through. Why not help them with this?

Mario Patiño's picture
Mario Patiño
NBCT, science educator

I agree with all that was stated. The techniques described really do work.

Stephanie Baugher Oyster's picture
Stephanie Baugher Oyster
Sixth grade Language Arts teacher from Austintown, Ohio

Thank you for this post! I agree, wholeheartedly with #7. In our quest to become expert teachers, we strive to be life-long learners, build relationships with caring, passionate colleagues, and work hard to establish a successful learning community. We rarely read about teacher dress as an effective teacher attribute, but it is. The way a teacher dresses helps set the tone of an effective learning environment. Thank you!

Lynn Custer's picture

I couldn't agree more. Number one in dealing with an upset parent is crucial. I always try to allow my first call home to be on a positive note. I think this lets the parents know that I am in support of their child.

Morgan's picture
Morgan
Intervention Specialist K-12 from Grove City, Ohio

Great Article and lots of great information. I really enjoyed you mentioning a speedy response back to parent e-mails. I have received many thanks from parents about a quick response to an e-mail. My challenge still remains with getting parents involved with their child's life. How do you tell them it's not okay to send your child to school with a breakfast of Mt. Dew and candy after they only slept 4 hours because they were up all night playing video games?

Miss E.'s picture
Miss E.
Second grade teacher, Maine

These are great tips for a fairly new teacher. I agree that it is really important to become involved in the school and within the community because it makes you more personable, which helps parents feel more comfortable around you. On thing that I do as an elementary teacher is I have a mystery reader program where we invite parents to come in every other Friday afternoon to read to my students. The students love trying to guess who is coming in each time, and the parents love being involved.

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