Studies show how important parent engagement is in a student’s academic success. But truthfully… parent engagement is also extremely beneficial to you as a teacher too. With a background in communications, and as a parent myself, I love collaborating with peers about the best ways to communicate to parents to increase home and school connection.
That said, it can vary widely by district and community, and depend greatly on things like socioeconomic status and language barriers. However, by making the best effort up front, you can set yourself, and your students, up for success. Here are five ways I use my parent hat to help me to communicate with my teacher hat:
- Understand Why Parent Communication is Essential
Don’t let it be an item on the checklist; make it a strategy for achieving your larger classroom goals. Like I mentioned earlier, parent engagement is not only important for a student’s academic success, it can also make a teacher’s life easier! From engaging parents to help with making copies, bringing in snacks, helping to organize classroom events, or increase your student’s buy-in, your parents are your best “assistants.” No matter the economic disparity, potential language barriers, or the academic levels of your parents — they all generally have one thing in common: they love their children and want them to succeed in school.
- Determine Your Parents Needs
Sure, all parents want their children to succeed, but truth be told, not all parents know what exactly what that means and how they can contribute to the classroom. While it might take some extra work in the beginning to determine and establish your parents needs, it will help in the long run when you’ve been able to come up with a system where you have a basket of homework assignments that need to be checked off in your grade book, or a pile of paperwork that needs to be filed, papers that need to be copied or a classroom library that needs some love. One of the things I work on every summer is a letter to parents introducing myself and offering my contact information. I also include a list of ways parents can help. I like to not only email this letter, but put them in the snail mail too. If you’re not able to get home addresses early enough, send a copy home with their child on the first day of school.
Back to school night’s can also be a great way to engage parents and have sign-up sheets. Find out if there are parents who speak different languages, learn about them, ask them to introduce themselves and their hobbies — I had a parent who loved to bake, guess what? She was my go-to for bake sales and even came into the classroom and taught kids how to follow a recipe for yummy fruit tarts! I worked at a school where the majority of parents only spoke Spanish, one parent who was fluent in both English and Spanish helped to translate any communications I’d send throughout the year. This not only made her feel useful, it made the Spanish speaking families feel more included.
If your parents do not show up to back to school night, as they didn’t at a very underprivileged school I have worked in, it will be more challenging, but not impossible. As a parent, I know how much it means to me for my child’s teacher to have an open ear to me. When you have a chance, ask them how they are, really listen with your eyes, ears and heart. The more you open yourself up, the more they will want to engage. Posting paper notices and sign-up sheets outside your classroom door can help too!
- Make It Easy For Yourself!
Along with knowing your school policy when it comes to communicating to parents, see what kinds of apps are available to make communicating to parents easy. I have used Google+ Community as a supplement to the monthly emails my school requires teachers send from our school messenger account. I’m able to instantly send updates, photos, reminders and glimpses of what we are doing in the classroom frequently. It’s as easy as snapping a picture and posting it on your Facebook or other social media app. Through Google+ I am able to make the community for my classroom private to only the individuals I invite. Parents can opt in or opt out… they pretty much always opt in! I get frequent feedback about how fun it is to see posts. Parents and students have also reported that it’s a great tool to spark conversation at the dinner table. Instead of, “How was school today?” Parents whip out their phones, open their apps and say something like, “I saw you exploring maps today, tell me more about what you learned?” Of course, not all parents will have the access to these kinds of apps, again, I encourage keeping a parent bulletin outside your classroom as well. My parent coordinator helps to update a dry erase calendar outside the door and and prints and posts the latest messages and some photos as well.
Note: After the school year already started I learned about an app called, Bloomz. I already started using Google+ Community with my families this year, but I plan to give Bloomz a try next year!
- Value One-On-One Communication Too!
In today’s technology driven world, it is easy to hide behind emails and apps to communicate, but do not underestimate the value of one-on-one communication. Seeing my son’s teacher give him an encouraging look at the end of the day and a quick smile really makes my day when I pick him up from school. The more you make the slightest effort, the better chance you will have in roping in your parents to consider things like being a chaperone on a field trip, or finally downloading that app, or even trusting that you, like them, have their child’s best interest at heart. At dismissal, my student’s get picked up at the classroom door. This is one of the opportunities I take to touch base with parents one-on-one. During dismissal, my students engage in what is called, “D.E.A.R.” time, Drop Everything And Read. For the last 15 minutes of the day, students read silently to themselves, and with a “dismissal helper in tow,” I stand at the door to greet parents and have at least a second’s worth of face time with them. This may also be when I say things like, “Did you check out the updated bulletin board?” “Be sure to check your email, I sent an update!” or, “Don’t forget to sign up for a parent-teacher conference!”
- If Your Student’s Invite You To a Game or Birthday Party On The Weekend: GO!
So, this is where my parent hat totally gives me a HUGE advantage. I often find myself spending time with not only my students, but students from other classes in my school on the weekends. Whether a play date with my son and his friend’s from school, or playing in a local park or museum, I often find myself running into kids from school. As a matter of fact, just last weekend I was at a local science museum with my 3 and 8 year old boys and ran into a family from school. While my older son was off playing with a friend, my toddler found a playmate with the family kids we met up with.
But I digress, I cannot begin to express how extending yourself to your students and their families beyond the school day can help build a strong relationship and accountability. When I worked at a school in East Oakland, with students who often did not have many adults who took an interest in their activities, seeing me show up at their ball game was the highlight of their week! Of course, this may not be possible with all the birthdays and events on weekends and wanting to well, have a life of your own… but there are always creative ways to allow your students to see you outside of the classroom setting. Last year I had yard sale and invited parents and students to come and join. Some families brought things to add to the sale, and the kids loved squeezing lemons and running a lemonade stand — they decided all proceeds should go to a local charity!
Whatever the effort you make, just remember, that by opening your communications efforts to your student’s families will be beneficial to their success and to yours!