Most teachers can relate to the daredevil tightrope walkers spied on the high wires above the audience. Stepping out confidently on the thinnest of wires high above the ground without a safety net, these performers seem to epitomize the balancing act most teachers perform when trying to meet the needs of students and parents, as well as their supervising administrators.
Someone once said to me “It’s a crap shoot.” when discussing how to involve parents in their children’s education. I’ve taught elementary, middle, and high school classes, and in each setting have had some success with communicating with parents over the years. But no matter what, a teacher has to have a plan for this communication. A plan makes all the difference between a passing grade and failure.
My essential question — “What more can I do?” — has been the key to success in so many aspects of my teaching career including communicating with parents.
So what more can I do? Recently, I discovered a book that I believe offers specific ideas that will make anyone a better communicator.
Three authors offer 128 pages of practical help in Teach My Kid, I Dare You. The Educator’s Essential Guide to Parent Involvement.
The trio, Sherrel Bergmann, Judith Brough, and David Shepard, have shaped their book specifically for teachers pondering how best to encourage parents to become involved with their children’s education in a positive way.
The authors recognize the basic truism that “Teaching and learning is more difficult than it has ever been. In this age of high-stakes testing and accountability, parents and teachers must realize that the best way to nurture academic success is to work together.”
These authors have been in the trenches and have survived to share their wisdom with the remaining troops. The writers quote Daniel Williams, writing in Time magazine May 2005, describing how parents believe that in this complicated, fast-paced world, perfection from kindergarten to graduate school is the only road for success for their child.
Williams summed up the dilemma teachers face every day so well. “People who wouldn’t dare to tell others how to do their jobs, find it totally acceptable to tell teachers what to do,” the magazine journalist writes. “Often, parents accuse the school or the teacher when a problem exists rather than accept that their child could be at fault.”
The Baby Boomer generation has grown up and their kids are now having kids of their own. The new parents are Gen Xers who have a totally different set of expectations. “They assume that they have easy and direct access to teachers and expect accountability in everything from grading to safety” (Bergmann, Brough, Shepard 6).
So what’s a teacher to do? Ample evidence supports the idea that parents who are engaged in their children’s education has a positive payoff: less conflict, fewer surprises, and if a problem does occur, the teacher already has a relationship with the parents to build on.
Full of case studies, the examples sound so familiar classroom professionals may squirm. But the good news is that the authors offer solutions. Failing students, parents who don’t see the value of education, and others who are looking for someone to blame are all recognized. An example would be the focus on homework and how to help parents track whether it is getting done or not.
Identifying the communication challenge and then skimming the book for suggestions is the best way to learn new ideas for positively involving the parents in the solution. It’s all part of creating the parent/teacher communication plan.
Don’t scoff at the notion that student achievement and parental involvement are connected, either. The section on myths and realities blows apart the misconception that success in the classroom is just the student’s responsibility.
Hate to have something read to you that you can read yourself? Me, too! So, instead of summarizing the entire book and trying to effectively condense all the good ideas into just a few words, I’d like to present a taste of what’s available in between the book’s two covers.
So here’s a few ideas to consider when you are coming up with your plan of action for communicating with parents.
- Open House – Most schools hold the dreaded Open House at the beginning of the year and invite parents to the campus to meet the teachers and receive information about the classes. Unfortunately, somewhere between the invitation and the night of the Open House, parents forget to come and the uphill struggle to encourage parents to attend begins. The pushback often is the fear of information overload. What to do? Start with the Open House to meet the teachers and tour the facilities. Then host a Back to School Night with specific activities designed to educate the parents on key concepts for success throughout the school year. Follow this up later with a Curriculum Night where the specifics of academics are highlighted (Bergmann, Brough, Shepard 13-14).
- Follow Up Activities – Continue to reach out to the parents throughout the year by building on these successes in the beginning. Suggestions include game nights, open gym nights, scary movie nights, and family lock in nights to name just a few (Bergmann, Brough, Shepard 37).
- Printed Communication – Our students and parents now live in an electronic world. When written, printed information is no longer working, try using Tweets, Facebook posts, emails from a constantly updated database to send reminders or messages to congratulate achievement. Or make a phone call and leave a message in a cheerful tone. Make sure the communications are short and to the point with an upbeat tone. Parents are busy people, too, and recognizing this with short burst of information demonstrates your respect of their time. You may also want to try https://www.remind.com/ as a way of notifying students and parents of upcoming deadlines or events.
These are just a few of the many ideas for effective communication the book addresses. Too many exist to elaborate further. As I tell my students, read the book!
And don’t miss the eight appendices, ranging from templates for parental parties (no alcohol, good supervision, etc.), to a needs survey and a twenty-part program to involve working parents.
If you want to up your effectiveness when communicating with parents, consider the authors’ final words: “Don’t succumb to frustration and conclude that the effort is not worth the reward. The exercise of trying will give hope” (Bergmann, Brough, Shepard 52).
Bergmann, Sherrel, Judith Allen. Brough, and David Shepard. Teach My Kid–I Dare You!: The Educator’s Essential Guide to Parent Involvement. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2008. Print.
Williams, Daniel. “Parents Behaving Badly.” Time. Time Magazine, 9 May 2005. Web. 21 June 2016. <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1059461,00.html)>.