Parents are the Best Ally
Start the process by finding ways to open the lines of communication with parents. Here are some guidelines for communicating with parents and involving them in their children’s education.
- Take the initiative. Contact parents through phone calls, email and personal notes. Provide information at the beginning of the year on what is covered in the class and what is expected from each student.
- Be sure to share positive as well as negative feedback about students. One idea that works well is to catch students doing something noteworthy in class, and then communicate with parents. Note: some parents might not have internet access or email.
- Consider a variety of communication tools. Ask parents to complete a short questionnaire on their children’s likes and interests. Create a classroom website or newsletter. Have students log their assignments and activities briefly in a notebook and take it home each day.
- Tap into parents’ knowledge. Give them a chance to share their talents and experiences in the classroom, on field trips or before school-wide audiences. Send them a survey asking how they’d like to be involved.
- Encourage parents to spend time at school. Add a “parent section” to the school library and provide office or lounge space where parents will feel comfortable. Invite parents to spend a day in school with their child.
- Give parents a hands-on role in their child’s school success. Ask them to sign-off on homework. Encourage them to provide their children with a quiet study area, a good breakfast, time to read together and supervision over television viewing and computer use.
- Remember, not every child has a parent at home. Be aware of the special challenges facing students who live in nontraditional settings.
Conference Tips that Work
Your only contact with some of your students’ parents might be during conferences. Here are some suggestions to help make your meetings with parents productive and successful.
- Bridge communication gaps. Find out in advance if you need an interpreter for parents who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who don’t speak English well.
- Schedule wisely. Provide times when working parents can attend. Allow enough time for conferences, and stay on schedule. If you are scheduling back-to-back conferences, give yourself a short breather between each.
- Get organized. Have your grade book, test scores, student work samples, attendance records and a flexible agenda ready. Be ready to talk about student progress, strengths and goals, and to answer parents’ questions about their student’s ability and achievement.
- Open with a positive statement about the student’s abilities, schoolwork or interests, and save at least one encouraging comment for the end.
- Stress collaboration. Let the parent know you want to work together in the best interest of the student. Hear parents out, even if they are upset or negative.
- Be specific. Give examples and practical suggestions, rather than talking in generalities. End with a summary of actions you and the parents will take.
Creating Meaningful Parent Conferences
Conflicts between teachers and parents are hard on everyone. It pays to establish positive relationships early and maintain good communication throughout the year.
- If possible, call parents to introduce yourself before the school year begins. Make positive contact during the first few weeks of school via a phone call, note or newsletter. Use back-to-school night to establish rapport with parents.
- If it becomes necessary to deliver bad news, don’t do it in writing—call or arrange a meeting. Try to make sure parents hear the news from you first.
- Handle disciplinary episodes carefully. Touch base with the student before he or she leaves your room to dispel hard feelings and review the reason for the discipline. Inform your principal afterwards.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may be confronted by angry parents. Remember, it’s usually not about you, or not only about you — you are part of a team at school. Don’t hesitate to seek advice and support from your principal or experienced colleagues.
- Don’t respond right away when you’re upset by an angry email. Calm down first, then call the parent instead of writing.
- When you meet with parents, the best thing you can do is listen. Let them express their feelings, note the issues that are being aired, and ask questions that show you are trying to understand their point of view. Once they have calmed down, you can begin to give them missing information and redirect the conversation to how you and they will work as a team to ensure their child is successful.
- Don’t get on the defensive. If parents are unwilling to listen to you, ask respectfully if they will meet with you and your principal to discuss the situation.
- Remain professional at all times. Choose your words carefully. Never argue, yell or use sarcasm.
- Try to keep the focus on the future — what you and the parents will do to make sure the problem will not recur.
- Set a date for a follow-up meeting or conversation to go over the plan and determine whether any changes are needed.
- Document both positive and negative contacts with parents, and keep the records in a file for future reference.
- If your supervisor asks you to meet with parents to apologize for your conduct, contact your site leader or local president before you agree to do so.