50 Tips On How To Work Harmoniously With Parents

parent-teacher conference

Every teacher wants parents to feel like they’re part of a team in support of a child’s learning.  Most teachers realize that effective communication with parents does not consist of a single act — such as a parent-teacher conference — but is instead part of an ongoing, two-way exchange.  Creating supportive, understanding relationships with parents starts from the very beginning of the school year — even before — and requires thought and effort in designing ways to keep parents informed and involved.

Teachers increasingly must be creative in their approach to communication with parents.  Parents work longer hours and have a variety of schedules and many other commitments.  In addition, teachers must think about families — such as those whose first language is not English — who come from populations that may not always feel included in school events.

How Can Teachers Create Effective Partnerships With Parents?

Here are 50 ways that teachers can use to build and strengthen this critical relationship:

1. Create a welcome packet for the new parents in your class to mail home during the summer.  Introduce yourself, your teaching philosophy, your class goals.  Tell families a little about your background and tell them why you’re excited for the new school year.  Begin your relationship on a friendly, approachable level.  Be as personal in your approach as you’re comfortable with.  Parents want to know that you are a real person, with interests, hobbies, and your own family.

2. Call home once before the start of the school year.  Many parents may be less intimated with a brief, welcoming exchange before meeting you in person.

3. Survey parents at the beginning of the year to figure out parent work schedules and prior commitments.  This will help in scheduling class events, parent conferences, and arranging phone conversations.

4. Ask parents about all the caregivers that are a part of the child’s daily life.  There may be grandparents, babysitters, afterschool clubs, and neighbors who may play a significant role in the daily schedule of a child.  They may also be able to provide you with valuable input about a student’s progress or challenges.

5. Create a detailed information sheet at the start of the year about each student.  On the back of that information sheet, create a chart with a running log of contact dates between you and the parents.

6. Display your diplomas and other teaching credentials in your classroom.  Talk about ongoing professional development in which you are involved.  Present yourself to families and students as a lifelong learner who loves his or her profession. Parents will respond to your professional passion.

7. Create a professional business card and staple it to first newsletter or welcome letters.  Again, parents will respect professionalism and seriousness about your career.

Inform parents about your classroom management philosophy.

8. Be open to parents about how to communicate with you right from the beginning.  Give specific times and methods.  If you have an e-mail address but do not check it, let them know.  Inform them how often you check voicemail and how long they can expect before they receive a response from you.

9.  Think about your own strengths and weaknesses as a listener and communicator.  Examine the (unintentional) nonverbal signs that you may be sending through your posture, tone, and eye contact.  One approach to active listening is called S.O.L.E.R.  It stands for Squarely face the person, Open your posture, Lean toward the person, Eye contact maintained, and Relax.  Be relaxed, direct, and open in your body signals.

10. When you are speaking with parents, make sure that you are hearing what they are trying to say to you.  Try another active listening strategy called “paraphrasing.”  Try to restate what you are understanding a parent’s main points to be and make sure that they agree with your rephrasing.

12. Create a “Parent Center” in your classroom.  This can be an area of the room – or outside the classroom – where parents can sign in when they are volunteering, pick up extra copies of forms, look through student work, browse the class calendar, and read school materials.

13. Inform parents about your classroom management philosophy.  In either a handout at the start of the year or during Open House, clearly outline your discipline policies and expectations.  Describe how you will keep parents informed about disciplinary actions and what your expectations for their participation are.

14. Make parents feel welcome before they enter the classroom.  Outside your classroom, include student work and welcome signs, particularly if many of the families in your class do not speak English at home.

15. Assign students to write “letters of appreciation” for their parents before Open House.  Ask students to describe why they are grateful and excited that their parents will attend and what they can expect to see and hear.

16. Make open house night a special event.  Ask for parent volunteers well in advance to bring food and refreshments.  Create a special invitation to parents for Open House, describing the evening’s agenda and refreshments.  If you are planning on showing a video previewing class events or showing student work or activities, mention that in your invitation.

17. Prepare a Power Point presentation for Open House and practice it.  Keep it short, friendly, and focused.  Include a slide with your contact information, class procedures, class rules, and yearly objectives.

18. Create a laminated chartparent-teacher-lawyer or bookmark for each subject or class that you teach.  List basic skills for each subject and general ways that parents can assist with each area.

19. Send home information about a new topic before a new unit is started in class.  Students are often not the best communicators of what they are studying in school, and many parents will appreciate knowing a little bit about each unit’s goals and major assignments.

20. Give parents a list of suggested questions about what to ask their child about school or about your class.  Many parents are baffled about how to get clear or detailed answers about what and how they’re learning in school.  Talk about this with your students, and practice how they might answer if an adult asks about an assignment or a unit.

21. Recognize all cultural traditions in your classroom.  Talk about and acknowledge to students and families the holidays and traditions that they may be celebrating.  Research them, if you are not familiar with them, and communicate your respect and enthusiasm for all backgrounds.   Put up posters, pictures, and other items from students’ homes.

22. Create a “school to home” notebook for communication with families.  Particularly in the younger grades, these can be useful for writing personalized reminders and updates about progress.  Think about how often you want this form of personalized communication.  Usually, these notebooks work best when they are used once or twice a week.  Be sure about what your expectations from parents are.

23. Create a short newsletter each month, week, or season to talk about class events.  Try to standardize each issue’s format, color, and size so that parents know what to expect when they are reading it.  Determine in advance how often the newsletter will be published.   In the newsletter, speak directly to parents in everyday language with no educational jargon.

24. Experiment with new forms of newsletters.  For instance, many teacher create newsletters that are primarily image-based.  Ask students to participate in taking photos to be included in newsletters, and publicize the “student photographers” to parents in your newsletter.

25. Ask for parent feedback at the end of the year about your newsletter.  What worked?  What are their suggestions for improving it?   Which issues were their favorites, and why?

26. Proofread carefully all of your communications home to parents.  Get a friend, co-worker, or spouse to read them over to make sure that you’re conveying a friendly, positive tone.  Parents will be more likely to perceive you as a professional if you take the time and effort to communicate clearly.

27. Call home to parents when there is “good news” to report about student behavior or progress.   Parents will be more likely to view you as someone who invested in the full range and potential of their child if they know that you are also looking for a child’s strengths and achievements.

28. Do not use e-mail as a replacement for face to face or phone conversations.  E-mail does not convey tone, and it’s easy for parents to misunderstand or jump to conclusions about your message.

29. If there is an issue, particularly if it’s serious or ongoing, the report card should never be the first time that a parent learns about it.  The teacher-parent relationship is likely to suffer if parents feel blindsided during one of their only opportunities to discuss their child with you.

If it’s serious or ongoing, the report card should never be the first time that a parent learns about it.

30. Have a clear agenda for a parent-teacher conference distributed in advance.  Parents will feel less anxiety if they know what to expect.

31. Consider student-led conferences, a growing trend in many schools.  Depending on the age of your students and your school’s policies, student-led parent-teacher conferences can provide remarkable results in opening up communication between you, the child, and the parent.  Student-led conferences are more likely to be attended by parents and have been shown to lead to greater accountability by students for their own learning.

32. Take your parent-teacher conference “on the road.” Think about offering “parent conferences” in places other than school.  If parent participation is an issue, consider holding parent meetings in local apartment or housing complexes where large numbers of your students may live or in local restaurants.

33. Ask parents to preview work samples in the weeks before a conference.  Conversations are more likely to be specific and goal-directed if parents have an understandable context for your points.

34. Create a written conference summary to distribute each parent and other teachers who may find the information provided in the conference to be useful.

35. Follow up on parent-teacher conferences with other faculty and staff.  Create a checklist of follow-up items from all of the conferences, and update parents with any progress.

36. Before an assignment is given out, think about how parents can participate – if at all – most productively in helping students.  Be clear and outline to students, as well as to parents, your expectations for how parents can help out.  If you do not wish students to get any form of assistance from their parents, be clear about that as well.

37. Offer frequent chances for parents to volunteer in your class and promote them.  Arrange a schedule of volunteer opportunities, and ask for parents to participate at least once.

38. Ask parents for suggestions about how they would like to spend time in the class.  Do they have skills or interests that they would like to share or teach the class?  Have they learned a new video editing software?  Be open to ideas about how parents can find a place for themselves in your class community.

39. Always send home thank you notes when a parent volunteers in your class.  Students can also write personalized thank you notes to their parents.

40. Inform yourself of school-wide events and keep track of the school calendar.  Parents will appreciate when your own class events and projects do not conflict with community events.

Home School Parent-Teacher Conference

41. Think about using online photosharing tools.  Many teachers take a lot of pictures of their classrooms, student projects, and class events.  Consider posting them online to a private account for your class so that parents can see and purchase them.

42. Create an online class calendar that parents can link to.  Link up videos, assignments, and forms that are due on certain dates.

43. If it is permitted by your school’s administration, create a class Facebook page.  Many schools and classrooms have found Facebook to be an effective way of promoting events, sending reminders, and asking for supplies or volunteers.

44. Inform parents when any disciplinary action is taken, well before scheduled parent-teacher conferences.  Parents do not like to be surprised that their child was punished in school.  Make sure to make a quick phone call or send home a note.

45. Maintain confidentiality about families at all time.  If a student is having difficulties, inform faculty members who are directly involved.   Similarly, do not talk about specific students’ tests scores, family backgrounds, or learning issues. You can show your respect for the families in your class by refusing to gossip or complain about individual students and their families.

Inform parents when any disciplinary action is taken, well before scheduled parent-teacher conferences.

46. Create a guide for parents about local and national media opportunities.  If there is an episode on a television show or a feature in a local newspaper that might inform or interest families in your class, let them know about it.  If you read a research article that might be of interest to parents, copy it and send home a summary of why this article is useful or important.

47. Find out about local support groups in your area and include them in beginning of the year information and in class newsletters.  Parents may need additional parenting help beyond what is provided by the school.  Ask the school guidance counselor or other professionals to recommend support groups that parents can check out.

48. Make sure that the parents in your school know the full range of resources provided by the school.  Ask representatives from other departments (counseling, special education) to introduce themselves at Open House or other class events. Ask these staff members to write “guest columns” in your class newsletters.

49. Use postcards to communicate with parents about meetings and conferences.  Many businesses give out free packets of postcards.  Postcards are cheap to send and are reminders that parents can put on refrigerators about events and meetings.

50. Be slow and determined in building relationships with parents.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating a supportive relationship with every family.  But do not give up.  Parents may bring with them negative experiences from their own school histories and they may have cultural or language differences that make communication more difficult.  You may have to use trial and error, as well as a set of approaches, if you are successful in communicating successfully with each parent.

About

Julie DeNeen has her bachelor's degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

You can find out more about her @jdeneen4 and Google+.

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5 Comments on “50 Tips On How To Work Harmoniously With Parents

  1. This list definitely hones in on the specifics of how to build a relationship with parents that really WORKS. If teachers have parents as allies, then half the battle with discipline issues is already won!

    Cheers,
    Mindy

  2. Dear Julie DeNeen,

    I read your thorough article from start to finish, and I have a few points of my own to make–as an educator. While I agree that parents and teachers need to be on the same page and work as a team at all times to ensure children’s growth, learning success, and emotional-social-academic stability, I feel that the advice you have provided here for teachers to develop a stronger communicative relationship with parents is very one-sided.

    As teachers, we go out of our way on a daily basis to keep parents informed of both their children and their children’s classes’ current activities and standings. While many parents respect and acknowledge our tireless efforts to maintain such a system, there are still those who feel (and openly declare) that we are not doing enough for them and/or their children specifically. We must remember that parents and teachers are essentially peers–meaning both parties consist of adults who should develop an equilibrium when it comes to habits and mannerisms. Therefore, as adults, we must show that we can be kind, respectful, dignified, responsible, professional citizens not only when it comes to daily living and working, but especially in the realm of childhood.

    Now, more than ever, teachers are expected to be “the third parent.” However, that “third party” is frequently prodded to becoming the “main party” of parenting–not only when the biological parents are physically absent from their children’s surroundings during the schoolday, but also in the long run in terms of instilling morals, ethics, and values that should otherwise occur in the home, but sadly do not for some. I heavily disagree with your reasoning behind parents working longer hours and having more outside commitments as being the premise for teachers having to cater to them. This creates a dangerous hierarchy–allowing parents to be treated like royalty, and subsequently taking advantage of that “ranking” when attempting to dictate the operations of a school, or the instructional styles of teachers. Again, this does not hold true for all parents, but the fact that it does reign supreme for many is quite depressing.

    After all, teachers are parents as well. Add that responsibility to the unpaid overtime of the academic profession (IMO, surpassing that of other jobs), and you have very little time left over for eating and sleeping.

    My request for you, Julie DeNeen, is that you write an article similar to this one, giving 50 examples of how PARENTS CAN HELP TEACHERS! And why not follow that one up with 50 ways for CHILDREN TO RESPECT TEACHERS? (Incidentally, I applaud your insight into having students organize conferences for parents and teachers if they have an issue of enormous concern. However, the premise of a parent-teacher conference is that both parties should be allowed to discuss issues pertaining to the student/human being at hand privately, exclusively as two adults–hence the titular element of these annual gatherings.) I respect your background as a child psychologist–as people like you are truly vital in maintaining connections and understandings between adults and children on the large front.

    Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns as an educator, dedicated to the positive upbringing of our future leaders.

    • I must respectfully disagree, Anonymous! That kind of article (for parents) would work best on a parent blog, not a teacher blog. The idea, here, is that Julie is explaining what she does–what is in HER control, with the idea that others in the same field might also consider using the ideas. Were she a parent providing ideas on a parent blog, then, she would be sharing those ideas that are within her control as a parent. Hope this makes sense! Why not scour the web for some parent blogs and ask them to write this kind of article? We can only control what we do as individuals, ultimately. : >

      • Mindy, I do understand your points. I am not trying to tell Julie how to think, or do her job. I am merely providing her with a reality check into the life and times of a contemporary teacher, and how some of her examples of going the ultimate distance to serve the parents are out of the question.

        For example, creating a facebook page for a classroom is completely unnecessary. Every school today is fully equipped with its own website and specialized communication network strictly for parents and faculty regarding school events, grades, homework, progress reports, and, yes, even online newsletters. Apart from the technology having not yet been invented, this parental convenience was nonexistent before the 2000s/2010s due in large part to older generations of parents being more on top of their children’s routines. And yet, SOME MODERN PARENTS STILL DO NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS SERVICE! Also, holding a meeting with parents and students outside of school hours AND off-campus is pushing the envelope towards legal issues. Technically, teachers are not allowed to visit school families at their homes, or engage in business exchanges in privatized, non-academic settings.

        Above all, suggesting that a teacher do a parent’s work for them by researching local venues providing positive opportunities for their children like extracurricular activities, or resources for the parents themselves modeling ways to better do their job of being family leaders, is simply over the top! Believe it or not, these luxuries are currently offered to parents and students on a regular basis at schools all over the country–which, again, did not take effect until the 21st Century and its new generation of parents entered the scene.

        In a nutshell, I hope that a licensed children’s psychologist like Julie displays (and moreover, maintains) a level-headed approach to a heated topic like the culmination of teachers and parents. By requiring the teachers to do more than their fare share, without openly encouraging the other side to lift a finger, is simply unjust.

        In order for children to develop a strong sense of justice, it is important for the adults in their surroundings to exhibit equalized efforts towards achieving such a goal themselves.

  3. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful feedback. To anonymous, I think the important thing is to remember that every teacher doesn’t have to do all 50 things. That would be way too much! It’s more a resource list– a way to get teachers thinking outside the box.

    Of course, parents are a crucial and important part of this dynamic and maybe someday- there should be an article about the opposite side. But this is an education blog, which is why I wrote it at this angle.

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