New Teachers

New Teacher Academy: How to Work With Parents

Team up with students’ most valuable allies

February 7, 2012

Welcome to week four of Edutopia's New Teacher Academy blog series! I'm excited to be here with you sharing my passion to support and mentor new teachers. I hope that you will come back for the next and last post in the series as we continue to look at five key topics designed to provide resources for new teachers in five key areas. To collaborate in more detail on these and other topics, I invite you to join my weekly New Teacher chat on Twitter, and also to visit my blog Teaching with Soul.

Please view this video as I share a few words on our focus for this week.

Today's guest contributor is Shelly Sanchez Terrell, a teacher trainer, author and international speaker. Shelly is an experienced educator with many years in the field. She'll share with us the importance of making parents our partners in their child's educational journey.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects Edchat, ELTChat and The Reform Symposium E-Conference. She blogs at Teacher Reboot Camp. You can find her on Twitter @ShellTerrell.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell on Working With Parents

I remember during my first year of teaching at a new high school, one of my worst fears occurred. An angry parent came barging through my classroom door and accused me of being a terrible teacher. The situation was eventually resolved; however, it takes time to recover from such a difficult experience, and for a long time I hid from parents. Soon I discovered, though, that by working with parents I would be able to help my students better reach their learning goals.

I decided to begin communicating through online technologies like wikis and email because it was less intimidating than meeting the parents in person or speaking with them on the telephone. I discovered the advantages in using information and communication tools to start this dialogue with parents. I found that many parents would respond to my emails, and that we could have continuous communication. Eventually, I felt comfortable speaking with them face-to-face and realized how important it was to meet parents and communicate with them at the beginning.

In hindsight...if I had been communicating with my parents from the beginning, I could have avoided that painful scene altogether. Parents just want to be kept informed about their children, my students, and I had failed to do that as a new classroom teacher.

Below are a few tips to get you started working with parents from the beginning!

1) Begin on a Positive Note

Not only is it important to make the effort to communicate with parents at the very beginning, but also we should start with some positive news. Often, teachers only communicate with parents to deliver bad news. In the beginning, we find out about our learners, and it is easier to discover their talents then and share this information with parents. At the beginning of the year, I use a blanket email. I copy and paste the first two sentences and always say something along the lines of, "Dear Mr./Mrs. Doe, I really enjoyed meeting Johnny, who is very bright and makes me laugh at his funny jokes." I then add a personalized sentence or two about each child, making sure that it's positive.

This way, your first communication with the parent is positive versus negative. Include information and links to your wiki page and school website, your contact information, where they can find homework, your meeting hours, school supplies needed, and other important dates or information. At the end of the email, ask the parents to respond with answers to questions such as what is the best time to contact them and how they would like to help. If the parents have a question, they are more likely to respond back.

2) Ask Parents for Best Communication Method

Ask parents about the best way to communicate with them -- via e-mail, text messages, Twitter or letters sent home. I found that communicating digitally helped me manage my time and also develop relationships with the parents. It was easier and quicker to send an email or text message about all news concerning the students. Many parents will spend a lot of time working and may never have the chance to meet you face to face, but when you give them these communication options you can see how much they appreciate your flexibility.

3) Invite Parents to be a Part of the Team

Invite parents to participate in helping their children succeed. Ask what they think would make the curriculum better, and -- if the ideas are good -- try to implement the suggestion. In the past, I have had parents add wiki content such as song lyrics or YouTube videos. I have had parents suggest an activity for a book or a game. Invite parents to volunteer and help! I have had parents decorate the classroom. I have had parents gather and organize fundraisers to get computers or other needed items in the classroom. I gave them access to update our class' online calendar with their children's upcoming competitions or ceremonies so that as a class we can support each other. I have put parents in charge of the activity of the month or resource of the month on the wiki page or our online community. Parents have organized field trips or have been guest speakers. Remember... just like students, parents need to feel valued.

4) Do Workshops With Parents

Invite parents in! Introduce them to your curriculum by hosting a workshop and serving food! Food entices people to come. I like to host workshops after the first few weeks in order to go over what technology we will use in the classroom, games we will play, class rules and more. I talk to parents about their concerns, and we are able to share a great dialogue. You can also ask to video record the parent workshop and then send it to those who were not able to come, so they can have access to the content.

Useful Links for Working with Parents

The following resources will help you continue to work with the parents of your students!

We hope these great tips have been supportive to you! We'd also love to hear the positive ways you have developed for working with your parents. Tell us about what works for you and what strategies you use. If you have questions along the way, share them in our New Teacher community or Tweet them using the hashtag #ntchat, and we will get back to you. Be sure to also join us tomorrow for New Teacher Chat at 5pt/8et. Our topic will be . . . How to Work Positively With Parents. Hope to see you there!

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