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8 Tips for Reaching Out to Parents

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After eight 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 two 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.

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MSHendrix's picture

I thought this was a really great read with very concise, easy to implement strategies. I currently use several of these tips, however, I found the tips for responding to email the same day and posting lesson plans in advance very helpful. I think that using a variety of contact methods, like email, phone calls, letters home, internet postings etc. is really helpful in communicating to parents. I also believe so much of the "us" verses "them" mentality can be erased by those face-to-face meetings you mention. Thank you for your insights.

Roger Prats's picture
Roger Prats
Efl teacher from Avilés, Spain

That's a very useful piece of advice, David. Thank you very much!
I am going to apply these tips today!

kindergartenteacher's picture

I really enjoyed reading your suggestions for parent involvement. There were many great suggestions that I am able to instantly bring into my classroom. The one that I found most helpful was to contact the families to report good news.

Jasmine Padmore's picture

Parental participation is extremely low, it was reported that at the last PTA meeting, less than ten parents attended making the cafeteria filled with mostly teachers and staff. Communication is poor because phone numbers are constantly being changing or disconnected without notice to the school. Other than PTA stakeholders, there is not much community engagement taking place at my school. Now we do have partnerships with several local business' that give us coupons for free or discounted items during awards ceremonies, however that is not an all the time event. I feel that this is one step closer to bridging the gaps but it would need to be on a more regular basis to have an affect on the kids. The other major event linking the students to the community is Career Day. Held once a year, this fun event showcases all the wonderful career choices the students have to choose from once they become adults.

Jen @ MemberHub's picture

These are great tips, David! I particularly like how you explain things from the parents' perspective--there are certain practices (like responding promptly to emails) that seem like no big deal either way, but that make a HUGE difference in perception. And this, in turn, helps pave the way for effective parent-teacher relationships and better engagement.

Susan Mulcaire's picture
Susan Mulcaire
Author, The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!

ome additional ideas on this:

1. Parents may be having problems with the child at home too and are embarrassed by what may seem like a spill-over into the classroom. It helps to acknowledge "Hey, your kid's great, but we (ie. have hit this bump in the road/immediate challenge/situation). Maybe we can work together to come up with some solutions for helping this student back on the road..." Enlist the parents help in crafting a solution for moving forward on terms all parties agree to.

2. All districts should have comprehensive and widely published academic honesty and behavior codes for students, which are uniformly and fairly enforced. Every student and parent should know what is expected and the consequences for breaches. Problems arise when there is a void and/or loop holes left for a variety of interpretations. A huge problem arose in our district this year because there were no guidelines and procedures in place enabling different teachers to make different interpretations and apply different consequences/penalties Look to colleges for model rules.

3. Meet on neutral turf. Invite the parent to Starbucks for coffee and a constructive discussion. You'll impress the parent with your willingness to spend your free time helping their child and the parent may be on better behavior

Cammy08's picture

Great tips! Dealing with parents can be very difficult especially for new teachers who have little to no experience. For example, I am great with children, but it can be a little difficult when it comes to the parents. Teacher and parent relationship is important because both want the very best for the student. I like the tip # 5 which is prepare for successful back-to-school night. It is important to leave the parents with a good first impression. At that time, it would be best to try to make a connection with the parents, like you said "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." All the tips were great and I will put them to use.

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