Part of our Cash in on Learning Series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
When I was a classroom teacher, the beginning of August signaled that it was time for me to start thinking about my coming school year. I was always curious about the makeup of my class and the parents I would encounter throughout the year. I learned quickly that for my year to go well, I needed to form a bond with parents right from the beginning of the school year. Here are five tips to help you engage parents right from the get-go:
1. Share your background, philosophy, and personality
Through a letter, video, or email, tell parents your story. Share with them your background, family members, hobbies, favorite books, pets, and trips you’ve taken. Always offer information about yourself that you feel is appropriate and safe to share. Parents want to know that you are approachable, have interests, and enjoy what you do. Tell them your general philosophy about teaching and learning. Let them know your passion for teaching. The more you can share about yourself and your style of teaching, classroom management strategies, and expectations, the more comfortable parents will feel handing over their child to your care.
2. Share positive interactions
During the first week of school, keep copious notes about your interactions with your new students, always looking for positive moments. Then, spend the evenings of those first and second weeks of school calling all your students’ parents to introduce yourself. I prefer phone calls over emails because I want to engage with my students’ parents more interactively. During the call, share at least one positive thing you learned about their child from your notes. Often, parents don’t hear from their child’s teacher until there is a problem; this kind of initial interaction can set up an adversarial relationship. By starting off with something you enjoy, find charming, or notice is an area of talent for their child, you let the parents know you care.
3. Seek their advice
In that first phone call, ask parents to offer at least one piece of advice about working with their child. Ask questions such as:
- How do you engage your child in new topics or areas of interest?
- How do you work with your child when she is frustrated, challenged, or challenging?
- What makes your child “tick”? Or, what drives your child?
- Are there issues or concerns I should know about, and what ways do you deal with them at home?
- Where might your child feel his greatest challenges are, and what suggestions would you offer me?
Asking probing questions about how the parent works with the child at home can give you a lot of insight into what may or may not work in school. Seeking parents’ advice lets them know you are partners in the child’s development.
4. Seek their help
In every classroom, make room for parent participation, volunteerism, or support. In an introductory newsletter to your families, let them know you are open to having parents in the classroom to volunteer their time or help out with activities and events throughout the year. Provide a website or form where they can sign up for volunteer times in the room or for different activities where you will need assistance, such as field trips, classroom parties, or school-wide events.
Keep in mind that not every parent will have time during the school day to volunteer. Offer parents opportunities to do things outside of the school day. One year, I had a parent who was an outstanding Web designer. I asked her to help our school re-craft its website to make it more appealing and easier to use. This was something she could do in the evenings and on the weekends. Offering parents possibilities for being involved in your classroom makes your learning space a shared learning space.
5. Stay consistent
One thing that can frustrate parents is when teachers are inconsistent with how they manage the classroom, how they deal with children, how they perform certain procedures such as collecting and assessing homework, and so forth. When parents are aware of the norms and processes in your classroom, making changes without notification or communication can cause problems. On your website or in a newsletter, post your classroom norms (the expectations in the classroom), ways you deal with homework, and other procedures. Being consistent will give your families a sense of predictability and security that your classroom is well organized.
These tips can help you start the year off right by making your parents feel comfortable with you and a part of the learning process. I’d love to hear your top tips for starting the year out right with parents.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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