Recent surveys among teachers have revealed that about 25 percent of them consider their relationships with parents as a capital cause of stress in their jobs. This is certainly a lot.
Ideally, the teacher should be parents’ best ally in the education of children. This is why, strong communication is fundamental to this partnership and to building a sense of community between home and school. Successfully keeping parents involved can improve student behavior and attendance, and also boost student performance.
What parents want
The first day of school is a major transition for most students. It is also a major transition for their parents. It wasn’t long ago that their children were learning to walk and talk, in the safety of their home environment. Now, they are on their own, left in the care of school, learning from teachers and other children. In order to feel reassured, parents want to know the following things:
- What their child is expected to learn this year
- Homework and grading policies
- Regular updates on their child’s progress
- Timely notice when performance is slipping
- A calendar of events and meetings
- Information on student safety
There are a number of ways that schools can use to keep parents involved. Here is a list of practical suggestions of some traditional (low tech) or more modern (high tech) ways:
Low Tech Ways of Engaging Parents in Schools and Student Learning
Meet the teacher/Orientation Day
Organize a separate orientation day for students and parents in the beginning of the school year. Introduce yourself, tell them what they should expect, explain the school policies. Most important, tell them how to reach you and how often they will be hearing from you.
Record students’ progress and request a confirmation by parents that they are fully aware. It can have the form of a signature or a short note.
Go beyond the traditional score card. Include soft skills such as socializing, communication, leadership, taking initiative and so on. If there is a portfolio or projects, don’t forget to mention them too.
Reserve letters for all formal announcements. A point to remember is that with letters it is the school speaking, not the teacher.
Don’t wait until student performance deteriorates. Make it a habit to call parents once a month to give them a quick update on their child’s progress. It doesn’t have to be bad news to make that call.
Arrange separate meetings with parents of individual students for a detailed discussion on the student’s progress. Face-to-face meetings is probably the best way to share your observations and suggestions. It is also the best way to listen to the parents’ questions and build rapport.
Invite experts to talk on topics that parents are interested in. It could be child psychology, learning difficulties, first aid, internet safety, bullying, child nutrition, the list is endless. Even better if the expert is one of the parents.
Teaching is a subtle process, and its mechanics are frequently not easily detectable by the lay person. So, do not assume that your breakthrough methodology will be applauded or even understood by every person in the room. More often than not, a lot of explaining is necessary. Open lessons give you the opportunity to showcase your best material. Use them to demonstrate what you do and most of all why you do it. Make sure everybody understands the logic behind your every move.
Aimed primarily at students, events like theatrical shows have the added bonus that they give you a chance to meet with parents in a more casual setting. A great way to have fun and establish bonds at the same time.
No matter how convenient they can be, emails can be easily misunderstood in both meaning and tone. So, to be safe, reserve important news to give over the phone or in person. Use emails for small, harmless bits of information.
An excellent form of communication to remind parents of upcoming events, meetings or school activities. Best feature: the call-to-action part, where parents are asked to respond (by either calling, booking a seat, or even voting).
Ask for feedback, ideas, preferences, and suggestions. With so many free online survey tools available, there is no reason to use the outdated print format. Therefore, use surveys to measure, assess and evaluate pretty much everything: from facilities to teacher performance.
Website / Blog
Having basic school information online is a must. Your online spot can include a calendar of events, announcements, photo libraries, archives, and student projects, depending on your available time and budget. It can also provide information about the local community, even teacher profiles and homework assignments.
Your chance to meet parents were they are! The list of available social media seems to be ever increasing as your free time is ever decreasing. However, this is a whole new chapter in itself and deserves a separate article. For the time being, if you share pictures of students, make sure you have written parent permission.
As a final note on engaging parents in schools and student learning, remember that all methods of communication that involve personal interaction are stronger, especially if it is one-to-one interaction. In that light, nothing can beat a teacher-parent meeting or even a phone call. Reserve these for your most important messages. But if you want to establish a regular communication channel, you need something simple and convenient for parents, with lower involvement for more frequent use. In that case, all the high tech ways can reduce the hassle and become a positive routine for both parents and teachers.