Chances are, you’re at least one or two weeks into the school year by now. Have you spoken to all of your students’ parents yet?
Although it might seem like an overwhelming task–especially in the upper grades when you may have contact with over one hundred students every day–establishing lines of communication with parents/guardians is a great goal for the beginning of the school year. We firmly believe, however, that it’s a good idea to voluntarily speak with parents before you have to contact them for what may be a less-than-wonderful reason. While phone calls might seem old-fashioned, they allow you to have two-way communication which is important when you’re trying to establish a rapport. Here are a few ways you can make the conversation more meaningful:
1. Before making that first call, have students tell you a little about themselves. This can be via icebreakers, an essay, or a handout. When you talk to parents, you can mention things you’ve learned about their child. Whether you learn about where they went on vacation or something that may be troubling the student, it is good for parents to hear that you are taking an active interest in them as human beings.
2. Send a form home for parents to fill out and then discuss this with them as well. Ask them what they think their child’s greatest strengths are, their concerns about the school year, and what they remember about being in the grade you’re teaching. You want parents to feel like you are working together, not battling it out. Giving parents a chance to talk about their child’s strengths is a great way to make that happen.
3. Communicate about homework. It’s a necessity for learning, but can also be a parent’s worst nightmare. Talk to parents about your expectations with homework, how often they will have homework, and how to communicate with you if they feel their child is being assigned too much homework. This last piece is key. Even if your student has six other classes, with six different teachers, when a parent feels as though they can talk to you about the workload, you are establishing that teamwork rapport that you need in order help their child succeed.
3. Contact parents who DON’T attend open house/curriculum night. Introduce yourself. Let them know you look forward to working with them during the year and that they are always welcome to contact you. If you gave out any handouts during curriculum night, ask them for an email address to send them over.
4. Contact parents who DO attend open house/curriculum night. Let them know it was nice to meet them and that you look forward to working with them this year. Remind them they are always welcome to contact you. It’s a nice one-on-one follow up that is great for parents, especially in the upper grades as they may not have had an opportunity to speak with you individually. At the end of the phone call, ask parents for the best way to reach them. It may be with phone calls, it may be via emails, it may be by texting. You want to keep the lines of communication open; be willing to help make it easier on them. If you’re worried about privacy and using your cell phone for texting, free apps such as Remind: School Communication will let you send text messages out without giving out your phone number.
And remember…nobody likes getting bad news. You don’t just have to call parents when a student is not doing well in class. You can also call parents to celebrate successes or simply to touch base and see if they have any questions for you. Just don’t be surprised by long pauses of confusion, however, when parents realize you’re calling them with for a good reason. Hopefully, by the end of the school year, you can change their expectations of what parent/teacher collaboration should feel like.