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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

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

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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?

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VictoriaM's picture
VictoriaM
Literacy coordinator, former teacher, professional writing

I very much appreciated your explanation on the difference of posting grades and contacting parents. We attempt to stay connected with our parents through the mail, online, by phone and in person. Not all options fit every parent. Our program handles individuals from infancy well into adulthood (some still live with parents at 55). We also have an incarcerated or post incarcerated group of parents and their families we serve. This is a very unstable population.

Ted Nellen's picture
Ted Nellen
NYC high school English teacher.

I have always found an early phone call introducing myself and then a follow up call in 2 weeks to all my scholars with good news and places of improvement give me easy access during the semester.

These early phone calls also serve me well in the class, because the scholars come in thanking me for the phone call or making it clear they don't want me calling. Either way, the scholars know I call, so after the initial blitz, I don't find myself having to call often and when I do, it is not overwhelming or too late as I see with some colleagues. I see it as a way of opening up communications, preventative, and makes parent teacher conferences successful.

Cheers,
Ted

Jacki Scholle's picture
Jacki Scholle
High School Special Education Teacher from Fairbanks, Alaska

I agree that looking at grades online is not the same as communicating with parents! There were several times this past school year where a student was in trouble for grades but the grades were not up-to-date. I understand this from both sides of the issue. Parents expect that grades are accurate and current at the end of the quarter, semester, etc., but teachers have time after the end of a grading period to put all of the grades in. This fact is not communicated very well and it is the student who suffers. For example, last year a student I work with in a Study Skills class had been working very hard in a content area class, but the teacher didn't put the grades into the online grading system, and when the parent looked at the grade right before spring break she told her daughter she would cancel their plans for a trip. The next day the student came to me in tears and explained the situation. I went to her teacher, who is very kind and caring, and she was alarmed that her class and the student's grade in it could be the cause of so much grief. She quickly updated the grades and everyone was happy. From that point forward the teacher communicated via email with the student's parent to let her know what was going on.

Lateisha's picture
Lateisha
pre-k teacher

I am a more personal teacher. I enjoy having an one-on-one conference with the parents. I truly enjoying meeting with the parent(s)and showing him or her the work that the child has done. I try to have at least 3 conferences with the parents. One a the beginning of school, middle and the end of the school year. Therefore the parents can see the progress the child has made. I also take the time out every month to send home a note and let them know that their child is doing okay, or send home extra assignments so parents and children can focus more in a certain area.

Bayyinah Abdul-Aleem's picture
Bayyinah Abdul-Aleem
New Teacher Coach

I advise teachers to make a connection with parents as early as possible in the school year. This connection can usually take the form of an introductory letter and/or phone call. Teachers can use this contact to inform parents or guardians about expectations and ask about student strengths or challenges. I've found that this initial contact can establish a positive connection that helps if future problems develop.

Deborah Thiessen's picture

We have on-line grades and assignments and I scan and post all written assignments to download a week ahead of when they are assigned. They are all accessible on each student's individual calendar listing all assignments in every class.

Communicating with parents means email, phone calls, writing letters, sending notes home, conferences, whatever it takes to make that connection.

It really depends on what works with that parent and what is the purpose of my conversation and how much time I have.

I don't like to use my cell phone to call so I sometimes call before school, during lunch or when I stay late.

We also have student-led conferences. I accommodate the parents and meet when they can meet.

Making those phone calls I get the most bang for the buck.

Liz Powell's picture
Liz Powell
Superintendent and Governing Board Executive Assistant

In my experience, the only strategy for communicating with parents that seems to get results is all of them: newletters, flyers, e-mails, websites, handwritten notes, phone calls, meetings, conferences, calendars, open houses, family picnics, assemblies, coffee talks . . . . you get the idea. Everything you do should be examined to identify how it can be used to communicate with and/or involve parents.
To really connect with parents and keep them hooked, a school must have multiple, continuous opportunities for them to be engaged. Events that offer entertainment, family activities, and showcase student achievements/talents are a great way to bring parents in. Use these as an opportunity to communicate with parents about instructional programs, school goals, how to support learning at home, etc. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular or complicated - the idea is to build familiarity and comfort with the school staff and initiatives, and to make parents feel like they're a valuable member of the team - because they are!
The mistake most schools make is to do a few things to connect with parents, i.e., newsletters, coffee talks, curriculum nights, etc., then think it's okay to wipe their hands and say "Finished!" because they put forth the amount of effort they felt was reasonable in this endeavor. Engaging parents is not something that can get checked off the list after a few thinks have been done. Even after you've successfully brought parents into the learning community, you need to continue efforts to bring more parents in, and must also have a plan for a variety of manners in which they are engaged in your school's learning community. Continue to make parental involvement at your school more meaningful to them, their children's education, and your school's goals. This may seem like alot of extra work, but if you consider the returns that will be received from the time, energy, resources, and attention you invest in parental engagement, in the end, your workload will be lightened as a result.

Susie V Jones's picture

We had students call parents and invite them to parent teacher conferences during advisory. We also offer a week of no advisory with a 1 hour long lunch, to the advisory groups that had 100% participation. As a result of this we had 98% participation of parents and students at our teacher conferences this year. A first for this school!

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