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Sage Advice: What's the best way to stay connected to parents?

Betty Ray Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

Some of you may remember we had a column in the Edutopia magazine called Sage Advice. Now that we're going online-only, we wanted to reignite the spirit of Sage Advice here in the Edutopia community.

Anyone can post a Sage Advice question. All you have to do is put the words "Sage Advice" in front of your question. And Sage Advice questions can be posted in any of the groups.

And of course, anyone can answer a Sage Advice question.

So without further ado, here's the first one...

What's the best way to stay connected to parents?

Comments (49)

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Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

Sage Advice: What's the best way to stay connected to parents?

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Here are a few ideas from an earlier feature we ran on this topic, to spark discussion

Email and school Web portals. Giving parents live online access to student grades, attendance, and assignments has been a great communication booster. They feel involved and can easily email with questions or suggestions. Playing phone tag is over.
Bob Elenbaas
Teacher
Lake Orion High School
Lake Orion, Michigan

Sharing conferences with other teachers. By having another of a student's teachers with us, parents and students can get updated and teachers can talk about learning styles and behavior issues in more than one class. The group gets a more complete picture of how a student is doing academically and can work together on possible solutions.
Marcie Wombold
Humanities instructor
Aviation High School
Seattle, Washington

I keep a blog called The Principal's Office -- tagline: "Not as bad a place to be as you remember" -- linked from the school's home page. I talk about what's going on in school, upcoming events, school philosophy,
adolescent health tips, and so on, while offering discussion forums, an image gallery, a calendar, and, in the near future, a link to an online bookstore.
Norman Maynard
Principal
Thornton Friends Upper School
Silver Spring, Maryland

Producer of the documentary, Race to Nowhere

School Loop

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As a concerned parent, I wonder whether giving parents online access to grades and homework assignments in high school raises the level of stress on our children and diminishes the opportunity for young people to take responsibility for their work. Why not consider a weekly email newsletter/blog where parents can stay tuned in to what's going on in school? I would advocate for more specific feedback on grades and homework be reserved for cases where there a teacher is concerned about a specific situation or student.

Truancy Intervention Specialist

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This school year our district started with a program that allows parents to have access to their students grades and attendance. I have found that this has been very positive in helping parents understand and see areas of strength/weakness in their students learning and participation. This works when parents view their students work, grades and attendance to encourage a student who in on track or to use the information to communicate with the teachers your concerns, because parents are a vital part of the young persons educational team. It will still be the resposibility of each young person to complete the work and make the grades. Each day as I work in the high school I see students making wonderful progress as parent step-up their involvement on the educational team.

phone home

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Over the years as a lot of parents got connected to email, I found myself tempted to use that a lot as a quick way to communicate with parents. Still, email can be too quick, too easy, and incomplete--and tone is REALLY hard to read. I've found nothing beats picking up the phone and having a real conversation. I try to call home at least once a semester to each parent to say something good, too. It sets us up for better communication if there ever is a problem!

Truancy Intervention Specialist

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Connecting with a parent with positive information and when there are concerns will help parents know that you are in this together. I would be interested to know Michelle, if you have parents that are involved because of your reaching out.

Advisory!

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I'm currently working at a school where we have what I consider a very functional advisory system, wherein each teacher becomes the point of contact between school and home for about 15 students. It's a certain amount of extra responsibility, but it means that there's a structure in place allowing us to build stronger relationships with the kids and their parents/guardians. I've had my advisees for almost two years now, and I feel very comfortable calling home about any issue, academic, social or behavioral, for which I feel it's warranted. The parents seem equally comfortable calling me to ask questions, and while this means the occasional weekend or evening conversation at unexpected times, I think it goes a long way towards making them feel involved and informed. The upshot for other teachers is that they can pass concerns/praise/questions along to advisors without having to make an unmanageable number of calls. I've not seen this kind of thing done effectively anywhere else, and it seems like a great way to connect with parents in a personal, meaningful, consistent way. We also have a web portal and online grade reporting as someone else mentioned, but since it's supported by advisor/family conversations, the parents know how to use these resources and what to do when questions arise about news items or student reports. There's no perfect system, but I think this combination of factors makes for the best parent outreach I've heard of or seen yet.

How DO you communicate with parents that are MIA?

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I work with a different population. Parents are overworked, (I guess that is everywhere)and most of my students; households do not have a computer with Internet connection. I like the idea of having parent conferences with more than one teacher at a time. I think it would be beneficial and parents may only be able to get one day off to meet with us. Has anyone had text messages communication with parents that worked? I may try that next year.

As a school, we have recently

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As a school, we have recently changed to an online grading system that allows parents immediate access to grades. Parents, through links on the grading program, can be emailed when, for example, a missing or late assignment has been recorded for their son/daughter. After that, I usually get an email from the parents. That has been my main communication piece this year. I do need, though, to do a better job of calling home because I have parents who, as indicated in earlier posts, are overworked or lack a computer.

Principal

Positive Communication

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An idea I plan to use this year is to send a positive postcard to each of my students over the course of the year. I will ask each of my teachers to nominate a different 3 students each month, including the positives each child is displaying - be it social or academic. I'll include those positives in my note to the child.
In administrative positions, it seems that parental communication tends about a "problem" rather than about a success. While the postcards will be addressed to each student, I hope to open up positive communications to each of our families in this way.

Teacher

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Totally agree.  Even in high school, students are still learning organization, accountability and responsibility.  Parents still need to be in that loop.

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