EdCat Guest Blogger: Tips for Communication with Parents/Guardians

By Meshell Thornley

Parents/Guardians. Many teachers agree that they are one of the scariest parts of our job. I can remember feelings of anxiety that came with meeting parents my first few years on the job. I wish I could say those feelings do not crop up now that I’m a veteran teacher, but I cannot. But I have had my perspective change over the years. So without further ado, these are my top five tips for working with parents/guardians.

1. Be on their side.

At some point in time during my first one-on-one contact with a parents I try to express my belief that I am on their team.  Good or bad, they are the first and most important educator of their child.  As a result, we as teachers are secondary.  I don’t mean to down play our importance.  Without a doubt, we have the power to make or break a child.  By expressing our support of them as parents they are then free to be open with us and to share and brainstorm about working with their child.

2. Frequent contact is important.

I am ashamed to realize I did not learn this lesson fully until I became a parent.  If you make casual contact frequently you can get by with less of the formal, more time-consuming types of contacts.  Keep in mind this only works if you have made an initial effort to make a more formal, time-consuming contact towards the beginning of the year.

You see, your first formal contact that is not required sends the message to parents that you do actually care about their child.

Being able to say something positive and be able to discuss the parents’ recommendation on how to handle their child allows the parents to see that you will work with them.  After that, your little notes and social media posts will have a positive connotation connected with them.  And as a result, you can get by with less phone and face-to-face contact.  Keep in mind that with some students, you are going to be the one desiring the contact because the parents can empower you when working with their ‘difficult’ child.

3. Remember, they know their child best.

Every year I smile as parents look at me and say, “Are you talking about my child?”  Students are different for us than they are for their parents.  Whether it’s that they are super neat at school, but not at home.  Or that they are quiet at school, but not at home.  The reality is we see a different side of students than their parents do.  I know this has given me the impression that I might know a student better than their parents do, but the majority of the time this is not true.

As a parent, we are present at the birth of the child and for the majority of developmental milestones thereafter.  Obviously the parent is going to know their child best.  They have been around a great deal more.  Keeping this in mind will help you to meet that child’s needs.  Thinking back to my own daughter’s second grade year I can remember feeling as if her teachers were not recognizing this very fact.  They were trying interventions with her and I only found out about after the fact.  I can remember thinking, “If they had only asked me I could have told them that that wasn’t going to work.”  Parents know things we do not, even if they are not the educational experts we are.

4. Admit your errors.

We all make mistakes. Hopefully they are not big mistakes. And hopefully they do not negatively effect a child–but when you do make a mistake, own it. If possible, catch the mistake and let the parent know prior to them finding it themselves. Apologize. Don’t make excuses or try to explain. Admit you were wrong and apologize. If they want an explanation they’ll ask for it. Now here is the REALLY scary part. Make sure your administrator knows of your mistake first (especially if it is a big mistake) and they can be supportive as you make the parent contact. In some cases they may advise you not to make a contact and you should do as they suggest.

5. No, parents cannot do your job.

After all of these words about how important parents are–you need to realize that you are too. There are ways we can influence students their parents cannot. This is why parents need us to be their partners!

Also keep in mind that just because parents might be professionals or be able to talk educational theory does not mean they can do your job. You are highly trained. You are skilled at forming relationships with students. You are skilled at recognizing the needs of 25 students all in the same day (and usually all at the same time)! You are professional and intelligent even if you use first grade words all day!

You are great and your superpower is teaching!

MeshellThornleyA K-State College of Education graduate, Meshell is a gifted facilitator for Manhattan-Ogden schools. She has worked in gifted education for the past 12 years. A mother of two children who attend Manhattan-Ogden schools, she is currently working on a graduate degree in Building Leadership in K-State’s College of Education.

 

 

When the Honeymoon is Over.

images

 

The grind has started. New shoes are scuffed, knees in students’ jeans are starting to fade a bit, and the five extra minutes of sleep is worth more than the latte at the local coffee shop. Welcome to the REALITY WEEKS.

What’s different?

TIME… the beginning of the school year began after weeks of anticipation, Pinterest and preparation for your honeymoon, er…classroom. Now it seems that time is a commodity that is more valuable than you ever dreamed.

MONEY…you may not have the first paycheck of the year yet–if you have, it may have depleted quickly as you purchased personal and professional items that were long overdue.

You have gone from an outsider to an insider, and the view may be markedly different than you had anticipated.

So just like a relationship gone stale, it is important to know and understand ways to keep a vital, vibrant, engaging classroom on track:

  1. Keep the classroom alive. Look around. Have you changed the seating arrangement yet? Have you moved your desk? Can you see your desk? If parent conferences were tonight, would the room look inviting and tidy? In this Scholastic Article on organizing physical space, Linda Shalaway discusses ways to keep your classroom student-centered grades K-12.
  2. Get a reading of your instructional practices. Better yet, give them a survey to discover what’s going well and what could be improved. Robert Marzano has some excellent surveys to enhance your reflective practice. There is even a primary grade survey with smiles and frowns that could be read to students to gain information on how they perceive school is going.
  3. Stop and Smell the Roses. The season is changing. Is it cool enough to go outside and read in a shady spot? Can you open a window in the morning? What are some successes and achievements thus far? CELEBRATE! Any milestone can become a fun celebration.
  4. Bring in a Guest Speaker. Educator Michael Adams has 8 reasons bringing in a guest speaker is a good idea. Adams suggests that guest speakers provide student benefits–such as hearing a new voice, to teacher benefits–such as learning from the guest speaker and enhancing future lessons. Remember, guest speakers don’t physically have to be present, you can Skype, Face-time, or Zoom them right in! Many parents would love to visit and participate in a way that can be helpful.
  5. Take a risk. Try something you have never tried. Perhaps there is an app, an idea for a lesson to try, or something simple as getting under desks/tables rather than sitting at them. Switch things up! Perhaps you could swap teachers for a teacher trade for 15 minutes of calendar time, lesson introduction, or other creative endeavor?

Keep in mind that none of these tips can be helpful if you are exhausted and grumpy. As a new teacher you are laying the foundation for future years of teaching. What seems like an endless cycle of planning/teaching/grading will be much less intense in future years. Files and folders may only need a little tweaking next year! Take good care of YOU. Restock the treat drawer (or make a list of what treats to buy when that paycheck finally comes in), download a guilty pleasure on Netflix and watch 10 minutes while you eat lunch. Better yet, take a quick walk outside, inhale deeply, and reset for a minute. Need more ideas? Please consider checking out our EdCat Chats created by professors and partners in the College of Education. You’ll find some additional helpful hints for enhancing YOUR professional practice. Another great resource is the Before the Bell  news letter put out by the College of Ed. Thank you for all you are doing for students!