How to Start Off the Year Right With Parents Judi Fenton
I began my teaching career being scared of parents. Although I am not proud of it, at least I’ve come to understand that I was pretty normal. I had never had a course on how to interact with the families of my students, nor had I ever seen other teachers treat parents with the care and respect they deserve. During my first years of teaching I put a lot of energy into trying to avoid parents.
Now I recognize that most parents are more scared of me than I am of them! Teachers hold all the power in the parent-teacher relationship. It took being a parent for me to truly understand this. My first parent-teacher conference as a parent was terrifying (even after I had been conducting them as a teacher for several years). I was so worried that the teacher would tell me something bad about my daughter and it would reflect back on me badly--since of course all problems lead back to the parent!
I wish I had understood in my first years of teaching how important it is to the well being of our students to ensure that their parents are comfortable in and welcomed into their child’s school and classroom. Here are some suggestions that can help you start the year off right with parents
Get to Know Them.
You can make parents feel comfortable, and also become comfortable with them, by getting to know them. Invite parents in to your classroom for a meet the teacher event and communicate your expectations then. Many schools have a school-wide event at the beginning of the year to meet teachers. If your school doesn’t have such an event, perhaps you and your fellow teachers can get together and throw a before school breakfast or a curriculum evening.
Go to Parent Association meetings and talk to the parents who attend--getting to know PA parents can also serve you well when you need some extra funds to go on that class trip too! Take every opportunity to meet with and talk to parents on an informal basis. I’ve found that when parents get to know us, they are much more willing to have the more difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary.
Send parents a beginning of the year survey. The survey might include the following questions:
What do your children do well?
What do they struggle with?
How do the best learn?
What have their previous experiences with school been like?
The idea here is to gain information that will help you over the course of the year. You’ll also want to include questions about how parents can best be contacted, what times are best for meetings, and how they wish to be involved in your classroom. Letting parents know at the beginning of the year that you really value their input can set the tone for your whole year.
Let parents know how they can contact you.
Be flexible in terms of means of communication, as well as with time. Parents need a multitude of ways to get in touch with us. E-mail is a wonderful way for parents to maintain close contact (especially good for those who work crazy hours--or the same hours as you do). You can set up an e-mail list of your families to send out notices, logistical items, curriculum information, meeting dates, etc. Hitting reply is such an easy way for parents to contact you back! Of course anything that goes out on e-mail should also be sent out on paper for those who don’t have access to a computer.
Giving out a phone number with set times you will be available to answer calls is very helpful. Parents need to know that you are willing to meet with them when they are able to get to the school, or perhaps even outside of the school.
Tip: Don’t rely on your school’s offices to relay messages to you. You may never receive them.
Welcome parents into your classroom.
Let them come in and watch you teach. I know that this can be scary, so think of ways to get them involved. I used to invite parents in to work with their children on an activity. Many of the teachers I work with now invite parents in for publishing celebrations during which they provide structured ways for parents to respond to students’ work. 100th day of school celebrations have also become a popular day for parents to do math activities with students. Invite parents in to tell their family stories--immigration stories, the story of how their child got his/her name, career information (and a related activity), or anything else that can tie in with your unit of study. Having parents help with the learning that goes on in your classroom is an authentic way to build community among your families, as they will get to know one another too.
It took my becoming a parent to begin to view the parents of my students as valued partners. I hope that you all are smarter than I was! Please e-mail me with any successes you’ve had in involving parents.
Do you have a comment or question about this article? E-mail Judi.
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