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NYC Helpline: How To: Work with Students' Families

How to Jump-Start Your Partnership with Parents Allison Demas

Curriculum conferences can be the start of a partnership between you and your students’ parents. Unfortunately, I find that curriculum conferences are held at the end of September, and that’s too late as far as I’m concerned. The first few weeks of school are basically dedicated to setting up routines and getting off on the right foot. I feel it’s important to do this with the parents, as well.

At my school, my kindergarteners have a half day on the first two days of school. As I meet my children on the first day of school I hand their parents two notes. One is a letter of introduction and the other is an invitation to a curriculum conference the very next day.

You may not have the luxury to schedule a meeting within the first two days of school, but you can still arrange one for the first week. First you need to seek approval from your supervisor. If you cannot use your own classroom you’ll need to request an alternate setting, such as the auditorium. Try to arrange a time when your students aren’t schedule to be in your classroom, such as a prep or lunch period. I know many teachers will argue against using the lunch period, but my personal feeling is that I need to do what will make my life and the school year easier and more successful. If it means giving up one lunch, I’m happy to do it.

My ice-breaker is kindergarten specific and isn’t appropriate for all grades. First, it’s important to remember that for many parents this is the first time their child will be in school, so in many ways this is the “Grand Introduction.” I try to have the parents empathize with their four- and five-year-old children by giving them an assignment. I give them paper and very short pencils. I distribute a handout I have produced before hand—it contains directions using inventive spelling--and ask the parents to read and follow the directions on the handout. It is interesting to watch what occurs. Some parents dive right in, others hesitate but then try, some try and then stop, others refuse to try. It helps parents understand what their children may be feeling.

I then proceed with my discussion. I have a letter prepared in advance which I give to each parent. (The letter can be as long or short as you deem necessary. Mine is three pages long.) The letter clearly and explicitly explains my classroom policy as well as school policy. I also write an agenda which corresponds to the items in my letter and attach it to a wall near where I’ll be standing. I refer to the agenda throughout the discussion.

During the discussion I explain my philosophy of teaching, my routines, trip policy, homework procedures and, most importantly, my need for their cooperation and assistance. I explain what I need them to do at home to help their child succeed in school. I show them every book their children will be using as well as samples of the school supplies I would like them to bring in. I also field any questions and concerns they may have, thereby nipping some future problems in the bud.

Though I am doing most of the talking (since I am providing the information), I still want the atmosphere to be one of a friendly discussion, not a lecture. I encourage the parents to speak up. If they have ideas that they would like to volunteer or questions they need to ask then they need to feel welcome to do so. The goal is to develop camaraderie, not a hierarchy.

Timing is important. You need to pace yourself so that you don’t run out of time. Put the items you consider most important at the head of your agenda. Make sure you clearly explain each point. You don’t want your clarifying meeting to lead to more confusion. Conduct the meeting in a structured manner; this assures the parents that you’ll have control of your classroom.

It is also important to end on a positive note. Since my students are present during the meeting we “read” a book called Read to Your Bunny (Rosemary Wells) to the parents. Again, this isn’t appropriate for all grades (we’re kindergarten, we have a high “cute” factor and we milk it for all it’s worth), but you should have a definite ending in mind. You might want to distribute your explanatory letter at the end of your meeting rather than at the beginning. You might want to end by giving away a book. You can pull a child’s name from a bag and give that child’s parent a book for his/her child (please make sure it is a new book). Whatever you decide, remember to keep it positive. You want your parents to leave thinking what an informative and pleasant experience it was. That’s a good outlook for your future and it’s the one you want for the new school year.

 

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