By Teachers, For Teachers
Teachers and administrators see family involvement in education as one of the key predictors of student outcomes. They even perceive family involvement as more influential than their own teaching. But at the same time, many don’t take the necessary classroom management steps to reach out to parents and make them partners in their children’s education. While the forms of classroom management communication will vary depending on each school community, there is no doubt that communication is central to building a partnership between schools and families. Here are some thoughts and methods regarding using classroom management to build partnerships with your students’ families.
First and foremost, the majority of your communication to individual families takes place through phone calls and emails. It’s essential that you and your colleagues utilize these simple tools. It should become the effective teacher’s habit to make calls to students’ families and have conversations. Email, while slightly less personal, has become a much more prevalent form of communication as parents are not always available during school hours for a conversation.
Teachers will typically call families when something negative happens. If a student misbehaves, has a problem, or is performing poorly, then parents are likely to receive a call. However, when building partnerships with families, you don’t want to simply think of parent communication as something that only occurs to report a negative. Consider calling home to report some of the positive, amazing things you’ve seen your students doing, or even just to give an update and build a bond.
If you’d like to share what’s going on in class with families, another method is to create a brief class newsletter to mail home. Tell your families what has been happening or what’s coming up in class. Share with them how they can help at home. Include photos of classroom activities and student work. Parents love getting a glimpse of what their children are up to at school, so use your newsletters to share!
Also use this platform to advertise your expertise and share with parents what you know about child psychology, developmental milestones, and behavioral norms for your students’ age group. Also consider what languages are spoken at your students’ homes and the possibility of translating your newsletter.
Instead of creating a paper newsletter – which parents might not necessarily read – consider making your own video newsletter. Include pictures and film from your classroom, and talk about what your class has been up to. You can also share messages directly from students to their parents and let parents see their kids in action!
This helps families gain more insight into what their students are doing, and you can add recommendations for how parents can help their children at home. Be sure to include your contact information and invite parents to have conservations with you about their individual student. Also check with your administration before you publish images of students to the web or send them out to families.
Using Twitter, a blog, or some other preferred social media, publish regular updates about what’s going on in class. This helps your parents receive information at a time and place that suits them, giving them that insight into their students’ learning in small doses and regular installments. While a platform like Twitter is suited for small updates and pictures, a blog is ideal for communicating directly to parents and sharing your thoughts, recommendations, or updates about class.
School can feel like a foreign or intimidating environment to many parents. We should strive to make our schools inviting, like a part of each family’s broader community. One way to do this is to become more invitational, asking parents to come on campus and be a part of what’s going on.
Consider to what extent your school extends invitations for parents to be room parents and chaperones for parties and field trips. Invite parents to come teach a lesson, share about their career, or be a reader or helper for a day. Give them a reason to come to school and give them a role that actively lets them be a part of their child’s learning. Instead of parents feeling like school keeps them at arm’s distance, let your school open up those arms and invite parents inside.
Sometimes schools can help teach parents, too. A Parent University is a learning system designed for parents, helping them gain information important for their children’s education and future. The actual setup and content of a Parent University differs depending on the needs of each community. Some Parent Universities have scheduled sessions focusing on different topics; others have actual multisession courses for training parents. Some have parents bring their students along; others are strictly for parents. Some are presented online through video tutorials; others are live or blended.
Subjects taught through Parent Universities can vary, too. Consider what your families’ informational needs are and how you can meet them. Do your families need to learn about the technology their children are using in school? Maybe parents can benefit from a talk about college saving plans? Or do your families want to talk about parenting strategies? Think through your families’ needs and bring together the resources to empower parents.
Most schools already have a formal school-family partnership organization, whether it goes by PTA, the booster organization, or any other name. How do you leverage your school’s parent organization? Invite families to join, and empower your parent-leaders to make decisions, give recommendations, and create opportunities for strengthening the partnership between your school and community.
I used to feel very weird when I spotted a teacher of mine at the grocery store or mall. Don’t they just live inside of the classroom? To many families, teachers do seem to strictly inhabit the classroom. Change that perception by being present within your community and eagerly looking forward to seeing students and families outside of your classroom.
Start by being present at school events families attend. Actively look for families and engage them in conversation. If possible, be present in your community as well, and don’t hide from families if you spot them at the grocery store or mall. Show that you’re not just a part of the classroom, but a member in the same community that your school families are!
Consider creating a parent advisory group that meets regularly with administration or teachers. Find a diverse set of parents who represent the wide array of perspectives from your community and invite their input. Quality partnerships are built when we’re recognized as thoughtful listeners.
Overall, schools and parents share the same goals. They have powerful common values that bring them together. Consider to what extent you and your school are partnering with families around these common values, and look for your next step to leveraging those relationships even further.
What experiences do you have partnering with families? Share your classroom management ideas with our TeachHUB.com community your advice in a comment below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.