Parent-teacher communication is critical for creating the best possible educational environment for kids.
You might think this statement seems kind of obvious, but I have found that many teachers are so nervous about communicating with parents that they avoid it completely unless they absolutely must deal with an issue.
You – being the dedicated teacher that you are – won’t make this mistake! Parent partnerships are critical for your success. Let’s review some of the reasons that teachers often have difficulty embracing this fact.
What emotions and mindsets stand in the way of effective parent outreach?
Many people experience trepidation when calling a stranger whom they fear may judge them. It’s the same reason that you don’t like calling an authority figure, such as an attorney or doctor. What many teachers don’t realize is that parents – even the parents of the well-behaved children – fear teachers.
Yes, it's true! More on that in a bit.
Be the first to break down this barrier. Your parent-teacher communication motto: No Fear.
Many teachers assume that some of their students’ parents just don’t care about school. In some instances, they are right, but it is the rare parent who has no interest whatsoever.
The only assumption you should be making about parents is that they are critical for your students’ success.
Repeated exposure to parents who don’t care much about school can leave teachers with a “seen-this-situation-before” attitude. This attitude will slowly poison a critical relationship.
Restart your willingness to interact with parents at the beginning of every new year. You’ll always find at least a few who welcome the engagement when you provide the opening.
Parent involvement will vary, depending upon the school’s constituency. There are schools that are overflowing with parent volunteers, and it is easier to form relationships with your kids’ primary mentors. Other schools have no parent involvement at all, and parent-teacher communication can be very hard to get started.
… but not impossible. You make an opening to parents by (no surprise) talking about their children. And I mean, talking about their children when they are not in trouble. Look for chances to connect and share good news, and after their initial shock of hearing from school when there aren't any problems, they'll be on your team.
Here's an example of how this might sound.
Audio tips: telling parents about great student behavior
Parent involvement: the reality
In case you have an overly optimistic assessment of your powers of persuasion, I’d like to clarify something right now:
Never go into any conversation with a parent thinking that you’ll be able to say something that gets them to magically transform their child’s behavior in school.
It won’t happen, at least not to the extent you hope. It may not even happen if you are meeting with them to fill out a behavior contract.
Parents influence school behavior, but teachers control it. The days are long gone when a child who got into trouble at school got into twice as much trouble at home. So let’s move on.
Don't blame parents
Blaming the parents should not be your instinctive first response when a behavior problem arises with a child. This is not an effective teaching strategy, nor a teaching practice that will lead to truly making a difference in the life of a student.
I’m not talking about negligent parents here, the ones who don’t fulfill the basic health and safety obligations of child-rearing that our society expects. I’m talking about your standard, do-your-best-but-not-perfect parents.
Note: I’m including my own imperfect parenting here.
No matter how conscientious a parent is, they cannot completely prepare their child to perform like a perfect little teacher-pleasing robot at school. Even if this is what the system required (which it doesn’t), what parent can fully prepare their child to handle this new and ever-changing dynamic that we call “school”?
School is a lot of things:
- constant interaction with dozens of kids of all different personalities
- rules, rituals, rewards
- consequences, procedures
- new stuff – lots of new stuff
This stretches students’ brains to the limit every day.
And what about recent immigrants to this country who may not even speak English at home? They are even less well-equipped to prepare their children for the social expectations of an American school.
In between drop-off and pick-up, during those six hours when a child is outside the direct influence of his parents, that’s when the trained, experienced professional takes over.
You know, the one who has learned effective teaching strategies, has a college degree (often a Master’s), and plenty of resources in the form of a full professional support staff, not to mention experienced colleagues. The one who has made it her life’s work to develop children into knowledgeable, intelligent citizens.
So I have a bit of a problem when the first reaction of a trained, professional teacher to a common classroom issue (such as talking during lessons) is to blame the parents. That is an unfortunate and unproductive attitude for any teacher to hold.
By the way, we are never going back to the days when kids were taught to automatically respect all authority figures. It’s a different society now – one in which authority figures must earn respect.
Here’s the thing: every child deserves a great teacher. If we hold every parent to an unrealistic and unattainable standard of child-rearing, and only want to teach the “good” kids, we are excluding those children who need us, and who need the benefits of education the most.
Video: involving reluctant parents in behavior
Parent-teacher communication is the key
If there is one profession that demands dedication, teaching is it. And when it comes to dedication, I mean dedication to children with all of their unique, engaging, aggravating, irritating, and inspiring little personalities. That’s simply what being a teacher is all about.
And those kids, in all their variety, come with one common thing: parents.
Break down those teacher-parent barriers.