George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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New Teacher Academy Series
A five-part series for new teachers that covers best practices for classroom management, lesson planning, delivery of instruction, working with parents and building relationships.

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Hi Leticia,
As a former principal, I had this issue happen personally as well as with my teachers. My advice to you is that if the conversation gets volatile, you need to gently, but firmly and respectfully end it. Use those good reflective words. Share how you can see that they are upset, and you will need to stop the conference and continue at another time. Maybe have a teacher colleague with you when you resume the conference with this parent next time. I've seen these kinds of conferences turned around to positive, by just taking a break.

Isabel's picture
Parent of 1 High School Student in VA

I currently a grad student working on my master's to teach. Your blog provides a lot of helpful tips and information. Thank you. Looking forward to the last lesson. : )

Amy Hauff's picture

I think technology is an excellent way to communicate with parents and I plan to one day use it in my classroom. Thanks for all the great tips.

Dr. Susan DeRiemer's picture
Dr. Susan DeRiemer
Professor Meharry Medical College & K-16 STEM Program Director

I wholeheartedly endorse the emphasis on communication and celebrating strengths. I would add the following, speaking from a parent's perspective, and to address some of the frustration I see in other comments. 1) Understand that parents acquire baggage as their children move through school so that the anger you see, may not really be directed at you. You may have to sort through some of that frustration before they are ready to hear what you are saying. 2) Give up on getting everything you want so that you can negotiate to get something that will help. A parent who is working second shift to keep a roof over the child's head may think that that is more important than monitoring homework every night, but they might be able to do something on the weekend, 3) Don't tell me the day before that the deadline is tomorrow, and don't tell me the deadline has passed. You are setting me up to fail as well as my child. Get me involved when I can have an impact so we can all feel successful. 4) Be specific. Don't just say my child is "failing Spanish" or is "disrupting the class". It is much more useful to say, "L. hasn't turned in assignment x, y and z", or "M. is having side conversations with so-and-so when I am giving directions at the start of class." This is also a good time to let me know some specific good things you notice, "L. is doing better with her vocabulary tests", "M is contributing more productively to class discussions". 5) When you present me with a problem, have some suggested solutions. These should include changes you are trying in the class as well as things you want me or my child to change. Remember that you are the professional educator. I know a lot about my child, so definitely ask me for ideas, but I may not know how to fix their problems and I don't have the educational toolkit to search for a solution. I might not know how to exploit their strengths, so you can help me with that as well. 6)Put on your culture-detective hat when you feel frustrated or communication breaks down. Language, how you interact with authority, gender roles, individualism vs communalism, how negatives are expressed,even differences in technological savvy trip up collaboration, even with shared goals. 7) Try to meet parents in their environment, not just yours. This might mean visiting homes or it could mean going to a basketball game where you both are sitting in the stands. 8) Celebrate and remember your successes. Keep the thank you notes and cheezy presents we give to show our appreciation.

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

I think that is very important to always keep communication open between parent. There has been several times where I have talked to parents and also invited them into my classroom to see there students interacting with the other students and their classwork. Thanks for the great tips about working with parents.

Alyssa's picture

I've always heard good things about starting the year off right with a positive note to parents. I really like the suggestion of making it more personalized. That way you are developing a positive relationship with the student and also showing the parents that you have genuine interest in their child.

jyiengst's picture
I teach 8th grade English in Pennsylvania.

One of the biggest changes I made between last school year and the current school year (my second full year of teaching) is my interaction with parents. During my first year, I did not do enough to communicate with parents early on, making it difficult to have a positive conversation when a problem arose with a particular student. At the start of this school year, I made it a point to meet and introduce myself to as many parents as possible; for some, it was a quick phone call, others back-to-school night, and some a brief face-to-face conference. Regardless of the method, I began each conversation by saying something positive about their student, and I think this made a huge difference. Early on, I had many parents "on my side" which made it very easy to call/e-mail home when a problem occurred.

I think it is an amazing feeling to contact a parent regarding a problem and get their full support; having parent(s) and teacher on the same page is crucial. Earlier this year I had a student who continuously got in trouble for wearing is pants too low. A brief phone call home, after meeting with his mom months before, quickly resolved the issue.

Amanda Jensen's picture
Amanda Jensen
Title 1 Teacher, MN

I love the tip to use a blanket email but add two personalized sentences. This makes communicating with a large number of families possible without becoming too time consuming. Thank you for sharing these tips!

Knakita M. McMullen's picture
Knakita M. McMullen
Director/Teacher Post Secondary Shreveport, LA

Edutopia's blog
New Teacher Academy: How To Work with Parents
Teachers are faced with many teaching challenges that can be very overwhelming at times. One of the challenges that have been around since the beginning of education is the establishment and management process of teacher/parental involvement.
In an effort to bridge the gap our school has an informative web page that is accessible to parents and students. The site is updated frequently with parent/student resources, upcoming events, parent nights, sports updates, school event calendar, school breakfast and lunch menu, club and organization postings, the athletic schedule, parent workshops, and other school extracurricular activities. A school roster of every employee is posted. School dress code, disciplinary policies and guidelines are posted on the site as well. Each teacher employed at the school has a link that parents are encouraged to visit on a frequent basis. Class grading scales, information pertaining to extra credit, upcoming tests, class activities, field trips, celebrations, class guidelines and rules are posted. Parents are able to check their child's absences, tardiness, and grades by connecting to a special link on the site. The site has proven beneficial for parents and students with internet access outside of the classroom.
Thank you for your New Teacher Academy blog. I am not a firs year teacher, but I am always interested in learning about new ways to facilitate ongoing parental involvement. I was particularly interested in the How to work with parents entry. I have found that while it is essential to connect with parents at the beginning of the school year to learn as much as possible while obtaining pertinent information through the parents' eyes, they will in turn gather information as well.
My home middle/high school, but I am housed on a nearby University campus. I work with special needs young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 in a post secondary community based learning program. Generally I have a roster of 9-12 students. Because my class is so small compared to others I am able to make an initial introductory call to each household prior to the start of the school year. After which an introductory letter, with transportation information, class schedule, supply list, rules/guideline information and contact number is provided. Home visits follow within the first two weeks of school. Again, I have been fortunate to work with the same students for a number of years since they graduate at 22. The home visit enables me to meet with all family members if possible; to discuss realistic objectives and goals before the school year really begins.
I especially liked your workshop for parents' idea. This is a great ice breaker, one that I had not considered. I am so use to the traditional Back to School Night parent meet and greet nights that are held every year at each school that I have worked at. The idea that you posted creates a warm means of connecting with parents in the classroom that their child will spend each day in. They will have the opportunity to see the types of activities that are planned. This offers a positive exchange where a wealth of information can be shared. Parents will also have the opportunity to meet other parents and perhaps form a network for themselves in a relaxed setting.
It is my hope that parents will feel comfortable sharing ideas, struggles, success stories, suggestions and insight on their experiences, and with my being a part of their journey in the continuing of their young adults' education process. Thank you again for sharing.

Knakita M. McMullen Director, CELT Program Southern University at Shreveport, Louisiana Campus

Alissa D's picture

Thank you for your advice! I, too, learned the hard way that avoiding communication with parents only leads to more trouble. I look forward to using your recommendations to forge more positive relationships with parents.

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