I consider communicating with parents to be one of the most important parts of my job. I won’t lie and pretend that I have it all figured out (and I certainly didn’t in my first year), because I find there’s only so much time in the day and sometimes that message I meant to send home didn’t quite make it out, but I have learned a few things over the past few years.
Here are a few of my “rules to live by” when it comes to communicating with parents:
Pick a system and stick to it!
My first year, I didn’t have any kind of system. I jumped into someone else’s class to cover a parental leave and just followed the minimalist system the previous teacher had put into place. It was short and sweet: students write in their agendas, I sign to show that I’ve seen it, parents sign to show that they’ve seen it, the end. It meant notes never went unnoticed.
About a month in, I kind of stopped following this system. There wasn’t any reason for stopping, other than my own absentminded nature. I missed a few notes from parents (which weren’t incredibly important, else they would have called the office, but they were worthy of my time just the same). By the end of the year, I wished I’d stuck with the system for my sake, for parents’ sake, and for the sake of my students.
My second year, I was determined to keep up with communication. I thought I would be tech savvy, have a blog, keep parents up to date every week with what we were doing in class… and it was GREAT until our job action started and I had to stop my blog. Parents were confused. They missed the information. I tried (and failed) to have my students adjust to a new system (the agenda one from the year before) but so many had misplaced their agendas by that point that it was pointless.
My third year, I started a blog again. No job action! I can do this! Only no, I couldn’t, because my personal life got crazy. Unless I was doing something in-class, I wasn’t getting it done. My blog fell apart a few months into the school year and again, trying to change halfway through just didn’t work for my students.
Fast forward to this year. I’m trying the agenda thing this time. No newsletters, no blogs, just straight-up agendas. Kids write down the relevant info, I sign off on the agendas before they leave, parents sign each night – done. I built 10 minutes into my day to accommodate this. So far, so good.
Communicate regularly, not just when there’s an issue.
Too often, parents only hear from teachers when something has happened at school. It naturally makes parents defensive when hearing that it’s a teacher calling, and that doesn’t help your relationship with them. I realize that contacting every single parent in your class on a super regular basis would be difficult, but I don’t mean you need to call all of them every week. Here are some things I and my colleagues do to keep regular communication lines open:
– Pick a few students a week and highlight something they did. I try to write a short, sweet, one-sentence update in about eight kids’ agendas a week. That’s fewer than two per day! For example, today we had a hip hop workshop and I noticed a few students doing a really phenomenal job and having lots of fun. I wrote a short note to their parents about it to let them know that I noticed their child participating actively. They always appreciate it, and it gives them an “in” to talk to their child about what’s going on at school.
– Call before school starts! My grade partner actually calls all of his students’ families the week before school starts to talk about the Middle French Immersion program, find out about their goals for their child’s education, etc.
Invite parents into the classroom to see their children in action.
Throughout the year, I do a lot of small presentations and activities in-class with my students, especially at the beginning of the year. Virtually any time students are going to be doing a presentation in front of the class, I invite their parents in to watch the presentation (and any others happening that day). Not only do they get to see their child speaking in French, but they understand my feedback after in a way they might not have otherwise. When I say, “It seemed like ________ was very nervous when presenting,” they know what I’m talking about because they were there.
Parents, in general, are very respectful of your students’ learning time. I’ve never had a parent try to speak to me after the presentations about their child’s progress or insist on staying. They come in, watch the presentation, and leave – but they leave feeling like they were involved in their child’s education.
Take photos of students working and share them with parents.
I love technology. I take photos of my students working on things and upload them to Google Drive, then share the photos with my students. They can show their parents the photos at home. They like seeing themselves – especially when they’re playing ukulele or doing drama – and parents like to see what they’re up to. Because Google Drive is password protected, I have never had parents be concerned about privacy, but they always have the opportunity to ask me not to share photos of their child.
Something I’ve started this year is what I call my “AMA” or “Ask Me About”. Lots of teachers do this and it’s a GREAT way to get parents to ask their children about what’s going on at school. On our agenda board, we have “Ask me about…” written permanently up there. I change it every few days (not every day) to reflect what we’ve been learning in class. Last week we learned about prepositions in French, so one day it was “Ask me about… les prépositions.” When we started learning how to play the ukulele, that was our AMA.
The AMA is great because it gives parents a specific question to ask instead of asking their child, “What did you do at school today?” Kids can’t respond with, “Oh… nothing.” Parents know that if it was the AMA, their child should be able to tell them about it. If he/she can’t, there’s a problem. Not only does it engage parents, but it helps me to know if there are any major errors in understanding, because parents will come back and flag it for me if they asked their child and he/she said, “Oh man, we were doing that today but I have NO IDEA what we were doing.”
Communication is vital. You want parents to know what’s happening in the classroom. You want parents to know how their children are doing. Nothing should be a surprise – not the topics being studied in class, not their child’s progress, not whether or not their child is enjoying something. Invite them in. Chat with them in the hallway or when you see them after school. Engage them.
When parents are invested in their child’s education, their child is a lot more invested, too… whether they like it or not!