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NYC Helpline: How To: Work with Students' Families
How to Foster Parent Contact  Allison Demas

The optimum conditions for a successful school year include the cooperative efforts of parents and teachers. Unfortunately, our contact with parents is limited. Traditionally, parents have been kept at arm's length, to be spoken to briefly at dismissal, Parent Teacher Conferences and occasional meetings during the year, which are generally conducted only if the student is having a problem. It is incumbent upon us to initiate a partnership with parents and encourage their involvement. Letters are one of the most important ways we contact parents, which makes the tone, content, and clarity of the letters vital. 

I have divided the types of letters into three categories: Introductory, Informational, and Meetings. 

INTRODUCTORY LETTERS

I have included different types of what I call "Entrance" letters. 

Sample Letter 1: Introduction
Take your time composing this letter - it is your introduction to the parents. Listen to the tone of your letter. Remember, you are developing a relationship. Would your letter entice you to become involved?  The first is a brief greeting and includes a supply list. I would distribute this letter on the first day of school. 

Sample Letter 2: School Rules
Another letter identifies essential school rules and includes the times I am available for appointments. You should always make sure the parents know how or when they can contact you. They need to know that you are approachable - and you should be approachable. 

Sample Letter 3: Expectations
The longest sample letter is a very detailed explanation of my expectations for the year. I would generally present this to parents during my curriculum conference. I try to hold my curriculum conference with my parents as early in the school year as possible. You might consider holding it after school during the first week of school. 

In the event that a student is transferred into your class, either from another class or another school, you might choose to personalize your introductory letter. No matter the circumstances of the transfer, this is a difficult situation for both the child and parent. A personal touch, including the student's name, and addressing the letter specifically to that parent, might smooth the transition and facilitate building a relationship with the parent.

Something Extra:

On the first day of school I present each child with a "care package." A little bag contains a few token items and the above note explaining the purpose of each. The children may not understand the symbolism but the parents appreciate the effort.

Some things for you as you start school:

  • Tissues - to dry your tears.

  • A Hug and a Kiss - so you will always feel loved.

  • A band aid - in case your feelings get hurt.

  • An eraser - because everyone makes mistakes.

  • A sticker - as a reward for doing the best you can -- because that's all anyone can ask of you.

INFORMATIONAL LETTERS

Letters that convey information are sent throughout the school year. During Parent Teacher Conference season, and throughout the year, it is wise to be in contact with your parents. I have also included a letter which could be sent at the end of the year, summarizing the good things you and your class have accomplished, and advising parents how they can keep the momentum going.

Having models for your letters saves time for you and sets a tone for the parents that you are caring, concerned, and organized. It is incumbent upon us to initiate a partnership with parents and encourage their involvement. Letters are one of the most important ways we contact parents, which makes the tone, content, and clarity of the letters vital. 

Informational letters include trip notes, permission slips, and homework assignments. A "please" and "thank you" can go a long way. I suggest that these notes be brief and to the point. Parents shouldn't have to search for information.

LETTERS ANNOUNCING MEETINGS

Parent Teacher Conference

In order to avoid a crush of parents you might choose to schedule appointments. I recommend that you survey your parents as to the time of day that is most convenient for them to meet you. Be mindful of differing work schedules. It is the same courtesy you would want extended to you. Once an appointment has been made, send a note confirming the appointment.

If a parent does not attend Parent Teacher Conference you should attempt to schedule another appointment. Do not assume that the parent is simply not interested in meeting with you - things happen. Give the parent the benefit of the doubt. 

Special Meetings

We rarely schedule meetings with parents because things are going well. Because of this, we need to be tactful when arranging these meetings. Give parents a few dates from which they can choose. I request that my parents sign next to their preferred date and I provide them with a copy of the note. You should keep the signed copy on file. Always keep accurate records of meetings and conversations you have with parents.

The Exit Letter

An  "exit letter" is not necessary but you and your students have worked hard all year and it would be a shame to let all that hard work fall by the wayside. A few tips to parents on how they can help their children might be appreciated.

It is also important to remember this: 

IF YOU ALWAYS TELL THE BAD - THEN YOU SHOULD ALSO TELL THE GOOD.


 

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