Communication and trust between parents and their child’s teacher is crucial, and you should strive to initiate and maintain that relationship as soon as you get your roster until the last day of school. You’ll have no better partner in the academic success of that child than his or her parents. Here are a few ways to build that bridge and connect with parents often:
- Home visits: This is a huge time investment, but so worth it. Home visits at the beginning of the year show parents you care enough about your job and their child to drive around three hours every night for a week to visit families. Call ahead, send an email, or write a letter and let parents know when to expect you. Go with someone, another teacher or a principal, for company. Have something like a welcome letter or a contact sheet or a personal profile to leave on the porch or in the door to say that you’ve been there if no one is home. If they are home, stay long enough to introduce yourself and meet the family, answering any questions they may have, but be considerate of their time. This is a great way to start the year on a positive note.
- Communicate virtually: There are times when talking directly to a parent on the phone is necessary and preferred, but using virtual communication is often more efficient and effective to keep parents in the loop about assignments, field trips, dues, or club activities. You can create a simple newsletter to distribute via email or create a class website that you update frequently with assignments and a calendar of events. I also use a great texting app called Remind that is both safe and secure. Students and parents join your class by texting a class-specific code to a five-digit number. Once they’ve joined, you can send a single announcement to the whole class or contact a parent or student directly with a private message.
- PTA: We have an unbelievably strong parent-teacher-student organization at the high school where I teach, and one of the great benefits of that organization is the parent involvement with other parents. By joining in the planning or working at a school wide event, their involvement increases the family’s investment in the culture of the school.
- Open House: If your school has open house before school starts, your role is hostess. Print up some nice inexpensive business cards with your contact information, classroom website, times that are good for parent conferences, and hand these out to parents. Be sure to welcome them in and encourage them to look around and ask questions. If your school has open house after school starts, your role is to communicate to parents how their child is doing in your class. Have samples of each student’s work available for parents to see along with a specific praise for their child. If there are concerns, request a parent-teacher conference later; open houses are usually not a good place to go in depth about one child because multiple parent and guardian groups may be moving in and out of your classrooms, and confidentiality may be compromsied.
- Field Trips: The parents that I’ve had the best relationships with have been the ones that I’ve asked to help with field trips. I believe in the value of taking kids outside the brick and mortar school as often as possible, and I have several small walking field trips to places near our school throughou the year. Because our district requires a 1:10 chaperone-student ratio on field trips, I often reach out to parents to help. These are low-stakes trips that often do not require transportation and last only for a few hours. It’s a great opportunity to get to know parents beyond a cursory conference.
- Night Events: Another great way to create parental involvement is to plan events where their child will be performing or participating. This might be a debate or a mock trial, a spoken word poetry open mic, or a theatrical performance. All of these activities draw parents out to support their children, and you can use this as an opportunity to make contact and give them an update on their child’s performance in your class.