The ultimate teacher guide on how to successfully partner up with parents
The goal of every teacher is to get top performance from each of his/her students. While there are a number of ways to foster this, one key factor is in establishing solid and trusting relationships, in the following ways:
- Establish personal relationships with your students. When you share some of your personal selves and show an interest in the personal lives of your kids, those kids understand that you care about them. Research shows this relationship results in more cooperation and better performance on the part of students.
- Establish relationships with parents as well. While you may not see parents face to face often, if at all, there are ways to establish those relationships. The same results can occur. Parents who believe that teachers care about their children will work as partners with those teachers, in both positive and negative situations.
So how do you partner up with parents? What are the benefits and pitfalls? In this blog post guide I’ll give you the tips and tools you need.
Benefits and pitfalls of partnering with parents
Parents who believe that teachers care about their children will be far more willing to cooperate with those teachers in both good times and bad. In addition to this important benefit, there are other advantages in establishing partnerships with parents.
- Enhanced student performance: research has shown that when parents and teachers partner up, those students perform better academically and on tests that determine grade advancement and placements. They also have better attendance, are better behaved, and tend to have better social skills.
- Teachers develop a greater understanding of their individual students. In particular, their home environments, the family dynamics, socioeconomic backgrounds, and the challenges particular families face. For example, a child who has had a close relationship with a father who is now deployed or, worse, has died, will undergo some major emotional issues and adjustments. When parent and teacher stay in close communication during this time, the child will benefit from support on all sides.
But there are some pitfalls of partnering with parents as well.
- Some parents will feel left “out of the loop”. Because of their work schedules and other family circumstances, they may not be able to participate in activities and organizations that have been set up. These parents need some special outreach, and that may be hard for teachers to do.
- Some parents will take partnerships too far. They visit often during the school day, and they may step in too much when issues with their children arise.
- Parents could look to teachers as their own personal counselors and reveal too much about family dynamics that can put teachers in uncomfortable positions.
Tips for Developing Healthy and Productive Partnerships
1. The first contact with parents
There are things that you, as a teacher, can and should do at the very beginning of a school year or semester to develop a productive partnership with parents.
- At elementary and middle school level, you should make an effort to make contact with parents, if only to introduce themselves and express their optimism for a great year ahead. This begins the relationship on a positive note. The worst thing teachers can do is wait until there is a problem before contacting a parent. This initial call need not be more than 5 minutes, and if a teacher will make 5 of these per day, they will soon be finished.
- At the high school level, communication usually occurs in writing, but it should occur. A welcoming letter with a simple listing of goals for the year and, again, an expression of optimism for what the semester will hold.
2. The bearer of bad news
Obviously, there are times when teachers must contact parents with negative news. If positive conversations have already occurred, these are much easier contacts to make. Here are some tips for those negative circumstances. Read this guide as well that teaches you how to preapare for difficult conversations.
When people go to doctors with an ailment, they expect a diagnosis and a treatment. Teachers need to behave like doctors. Calling a parent just to tell them that their student is missing three assignments or behaved badly in class today is nothing more than being a “snitch.” Do not make the call until you have a prescriptive plan to fix the problem.
“Billy is missing three assignments. I have told him that if he gets these in by Monday, I will still give him some credit for them. I am going to put them in a large envelope and send them home. I would like for you to see that they are finished this weekend and returned on Monday. Can I count on you to do this?”
If the problem is behavior-related, you need to follow the same pattern as above. State specifically what she did, and report it just as a reporter would. Do not add emotion.
“Sally disrupted the class three times today. I have moved her seat closer to me, and have told her she can earn her regular seat back with one week of good behavior. I am not asking you to punish her at home. But I am asking you to let her know that I did call you about it and that if it continues there will be consequences at home. Can I count on you to do this?”
Be certain that the parent gets a call back when Sally cleans up her act, so that they can provide positive reinforcement at home.
6 Tools Teachers Can Use to Communicate with parents
Technology is a wonderful thing. Most school districts have software systems that allow teachers to set up their own websites or profile that can be accessed by parents. These can include news, coming activities and assignments and when they are due.
A part of your personal teacher website should include a contact form, and obviously you will need to check that at least daily and respond quickly. Parents should also have your school email address, so that they can contact you when necessary.
It’s important that you ask parents the best method and time of day for contacting them – this is a no brainer.
There are several great edtech options for communication. Consider putting them in your “toolbox.”
1. Use a Messenger App
Your parents have phones with text message capability. You can use an app for up-to-the-minute messages to individual parents or to an entire group.
A great app is Remind. Not only can you send reminders of upcoming events, assignments, field trips, etc., you can send photos. How proud might a working parent be to receive a photo of his/her child making a presentation in class?
2. Use an Online Gradebook
Many school districts already have a learning management system which allows teachers to send updated grades to parents at any time. If your school/district does not have one, get an online gradebook – one that not only lets you send updated grades to parents, but also to set up dialogue about them.
Parents will often want explanations related to grades that were given. One great tool is ThinkWave. There is a free download for individual teachers. Better yet, speak with your school administrator about a subscription for the entire school. This will add more features. It is cloud-based and less expensive than many in-house systems.
3. Save Student Work in a Digital Portfolio to Share with Parents
You can develop an individual portfolio for each student with a built-in method of sharing and discussing it with parents. Seesaw provides this more personalized approach, and teachers can go beyond just messaging parents about their students’ work.
4. Consider a Blog
Edublogs is a part of WordPress and so easy to set up. You can post regularly, allow your students and parents to add posts, and get some great discussions going. Not only does this allow you to establish better relationships with parents, but you can foster great discussions among parents who might not otherwise communicate with each other.
5. A Class Website
You might have a website through your school’s/district’s learning management system. But how about a class website? They are easy and free to set up. This is a great way to reach out to parents through their kids. Put the kids in charge of contributing and updating, and parents can provide content too. With Spark Pages from Adobe, you and your students can create their own website page in minutes for free!
6. Use Social Media
There are closed Facebook groups. It is fun to set one up and let both parents and students join. The posts will only appear in the closed group. And of course, there are many more ways to use social media in your classroom. Not only for parent communication.
9 Tasks You Can Ask Parents to Perform
Of course, you will invite parents to make appointments with you when they have issues, concerns, or questions. And of course, you will provide the times of day that they can contact you. Beyond that, you need to be clear about the types of homework assistance they can provide:
- If a student genuinely does not understand an assignment, the parent could offer explanatory help and also model how to complete it. The student must complete the assignment, however, for this is the only way they master the skills and content.
- Parents can also be asked to check that nightly assignments have been completed.
Beyond staying on top of assignments, there are a number of ways in which parents can participate in their kids’ education.
- Develop a list at the beginning of the year of the types of help parents can give. Be detailed and give parents an idea of how much time the activities might consume. Email the list to parents and ask them to check which activities they can commit to.
- Use the individual strengths and availability of parents. Those who work may find it difficult to volunteer during the day, but they may be able to take a day off to chaperone a field trip or evening activities. One middle school had “Fun Nights” on a Friday night every other month. Parents were asked to monitor, supervise, and referee games and to chaperone the dance activity in the multi-purpose room. It was a perfect activity for working parents.
- Another way for working parents to help is to take responsibility for an e-newsletter. All of this can be handled digitally with articles and newsy items sent over to that parent.
- During career exploration events, or when a parent has a position related to a course you are teaching use Skype to bring those parents’ workplaces into the classroom.
- Plan some mini-workshops for parents to be held during non-school hours. Ask them what topics would interest them most.
- Assign student-parent cooperative projects. Suppose a student has to write an explanatory essay that includes directions for completing a task – cooking something, changing the oil in a car, etc. This is a good way to have parents actually participate in an assignment.
- Classroom assistance. This is the most common way to get parents involved. Non-working parents, or those with flexible schedules, can set up a convenient schedule for themselves and come in to help out. When teachers know what times and days parents will be in, they can plan the more active lessons for which extra hands will be appreciated.
- For parents who cannot dedicate any time, ask for them to provide supplies or food for classroom needs or parties.
- Ask for feedback. When you have school projects or when you just want to get a feel for how parents have felt about a unit of study you have just completed, ask parents to email you their comments. It might also be good to send out a survey about homework. Tell parents you want to get a better idea of how much time their kids are spending on nightly homework. This will give you good data that may drive some modifications.
The Operational Word is Balance
You want a good partnership with parents. You want to keep them informed; you want them to know that you genuinely care about their children; and you want them to support your expectations for academic and behavioral performances. And, you want them involved in whatever capacity they can offer.
If you begin with positivity and optimism, and parents feel a connection with you personally, you will have their support if there should be issues with their child.
At the same time, you do not want to be “friends” with your parents. Think about a good, empathetic doctor-patient relationship. That is what you want with your parents.
Amanda Sparks, freelancing psychologist and head of content at Essay Supply. Analogue at birth, digital by design, a writer here and there, glasses nerd and life changer.