By Teachers, For Teachers
When it comes to teaching the whole child, no one will be a better teammate than each child’s parents. As teachers, we enjoy a privileged access to students with a set time and place to meet each day. We love our students. We care when they succeed and when they mess up. We thrive off of their passions and enthusiasm. We want what’s best for them. But we still can’t beat the love and impact parents can have on their own children.
It stands to reason, then, that if we want to maximize students’ growth throughout a school year, we need to recruit our most powerful ally: Their parents. We may be doing everything we can for a student, and parents might be doing everything they can for their child. But if we’re not working together, then it’s like two rowers in a boat paddling their oars at two different speeds and in two different directions: they both are striving for a goal, but they can achieve it much better if they could just get in sync.
So get in sync with the parents of your students, and do it from the get-go. With the school year finally here, and as you plan first day of school activities, this is your prime opportunity to build relationships and alliances. You don’t have to wait for a student to “act out of line” or for grades to start slipping to initiate contact with parents. Rather, establish an open line of communication with as many parents as possible, pulling them into the learning process.
Here are some first day of school activities to start things off right with parents:
1. Send an email or letter before school begins: So maybe your school year hasn’t started yet. If not, you don’t have to wait! Send a friendly letter or email out to parents to introduce yourself and your class. If your class had a summer homework assignment to complete, you can even use contact this to remind families about it. Even if school has begun, you can still send a friendly note home.
2. Host a “Meet the Teacher” event: Many schools host a curriculum night or open house towards the beginning of the year. But these can be formal and crowded. Why not plan your own more down-to-earth event? Send out actual invitations and bring families into your classroom – or you can move it to a local coffee shop!
3. Plan a technology training night for parents. As more schools incorporate technology, parents often need training of their own to keep up. Offer opportunities for parents to come to school and get their personalized, parent-centered tutorials on the latest tech tools you plan on incorporating into your instruction this year.
4. Be available on multiple mediums. Make yourself and information about your class available from a variety of approaches, including the traditional phone and email, plus your class website and on social media platforms.
5. Call home for good reasons. Parents dread calls from teachers because it often means their child is misbehaving or falling behind. Break this status quo by calling parents when their student has done something well, even something small. Parents love good news, and starting with some makes a positive grounding for the rest of the year.
6. Make appearances at school events. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, so attend those back-to-school events and begin introducing yourself to parents. Just shaking a hand and sharing a few words goes a long way toward playing on the same team down the road.
7. Assign homework that requires parent interaction. Many students do their homework on their own, without parents. Give parents insight into their child’s academics by creating a small assignment (like an interview) that requires students to work with their parents. This makes school less of a secret.
8. Create a regular newsletter, blog post, or email with tips and requests. If you truly want parents to work with you to better their students’ learning, then share with them what you’re doing and what they can do too. Tell them what you’re reading and encourage them to read it too. Tell them what you’re writing about and encourage them to help their children. Tell them what you’re studying and give recommendations for places parents can take their children to learn more outside of class.
9. Be a good listener. You don’t always have to be the one sharing. You’ll be shocked at what parents can reveal to you about their child that will prove helpful in reaching them during class. Use your ears more than your lips as often as possible.
It’s all about being the proactive one in the relationship, establishing and keeping the lines of communication open. Increase a student’s growth exponentially by building a bridge between school and home. If parents and teachers present a united front, then the strongest adult influences in their lives will all be pushing them together in the right direction.