I believe wholeheartedly that a child’s academic success is greatly enhanced when teachers and parents are partners in the process. When I need information pertaining to a child or a child is experiencing a problem, I contact the parents or guardians because they are my #1 resource. Throughout the school year I use a variety of communication methods to build and sustain solid relationships with parents. These are nine of my tried-and-proven techniques:

  1. Use Registration Time to Build a Foundation
    I begin the school year by meeting some of my parents during registration, before school begins. This is the first time I meet my students and their parents/guardians. Since first impressions are lasting impressions, I make sure my classroom is warm and welcoming.  
    In addition to the paperwork and fees related to registering, parents receive their child’s schedule and visit their classes. This is my chance to meet the parents and get email addresses and phone numbers. To the students, I issue the agenda books and — most thrilling for them — their lockers and combinations.

    I love watching the students excitedly practicing their locks with their parents. It's one of many new experiences that 6th graders and their parents will go through this year. I use the locker practice as an opportunity to discuss the feelings of excitement, nervousness, and frustration students can expect to have in middle school. I also take this time to reassure parents — who may be feeling similar emotions they felt when they first dropped their child off at kindergarten. Just as students will master their locks in no time, they'll adapt to and master life in 6th grade.   (Pictures)
  2. Create Detailed Student Information Sheets
    On the first day of class, I send home student information sheets that ask for basic information: name of students and parents, address, numbers for home, work place, email addresses if applicable. A copy of the student’s schedule is on the front of this form also, so if I ever need to locate that student during the school day, I can immediately see where he or she is and whom I need to contact.

    On the back of the information sheet is a contact log where I keep a running list of dates on which I've contacted parents or vice versa. I always document contact with parents by writing date, time, and short summary of what was discussed. This documentation is very important to have, because when you have over 90 students it is easy to forget what was discussed with one parent versus another. It may sound time consuming to document each contact, but the information will prove to be extremely helpful at a parent conference.   I have all of my student information sheets alphabetized in a three ring binder separated by periods, and it is located in the file cabinet by my phone (easy access).
  3. Send Out Parent Surveys
    Two to three weeks after school starts, I send a parent survey home. The survey asks questions such as:
    -What was your child like as a baby?
    -What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?
    -What does your child do in his spare time?  

    This information helps me get to know each student as a person and learner. It's also useful when planning lessons. Even though parents are just as busy as teachers, they eagerly take the time to write as much information about their child as they can. One parent wrote a note to me on her child’s survey saying, “This is wonderful that you want to learn more about my child.” Seeking the advice of parents shows respect and helps gain and sustain their support. The students also get a kick out of reading what their parents wrote about them. 
  4. Make Open House a Special Event
    During Open House my school does a number of things to greet parents and make them feel at home. This year our PTO provided grilled hotdogs and drinks for parents and families before Open House actually started. One of my colleagues provided chocolate chip cookies and milk for her parents. Free food is always a winner! Parents are also encouraged to join the PTO and SIC which is fabulous for establishing and building a positive parent and school relationship.  

    When parents enter my classroom, I present a simple PowerPoint. All you need is a computer and projector. I create slides on:
    Who I am (tidbits about myself-family, education, experience, etc.)
    Important phone number with extension, e-mail address, homework hotline number, and school’s Web site Procedure for my class (Get Started, Today We Will…, Homework)
    An explanation of what will be taught throughout school year (writing and reading objectives) Rules/Regulations
  5. Contact Them With Good News Regularly
    I make commendation calls or emails regularly — and every year I set a goal to do them more often. So much time is devoted to students who are not doing what they are suppose to that students who perform well do not receive adequate praise. Parents are so pleased and sometimes shocked when you call and say, “It is such a pleasure to have Brian in my classroom.” I attempt to make these calls weekly during a planning period or after school; three to five per week. I found that scheduling the calls in my planner, means I am more likely do them — and more likely to make a difference in parent’s and student’s day.
  6. Plan a Writing Night
    Besides the common methods of communicating with parents, I plan a Writing Night each semester as a fun way to share my curriculum and give parents a peek into our classroom.  Choose an evening (after work for parents) for your event. An hour or even 45 minutes will probably be plenty of time to have some fun with this.
    - Send invitations (for parents and students) via your newsletter, special send-homes, emails or your Web site. Provide snacks, everyone loves to eat.
    - Set discussion ideas: different types of writing the students work on throughout the year: narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive, Six-Trait model, etc. View and discuss strong and weak examples of papers (do not use students’ papers from that school year).
    - Explain how you conduct writing conferences. Offer suggestions on how parents can encourage their child to write.
    - Have an interactive activity for parents and students to complete together. For example, you could have the parent and student analyze the strengths and weaknesses in a piece of writing and how would they correct it. Take questions.
  7. Utilize Technology Whenever Possible
    Parents and teachers both are extremely busy, so I use technology to stay in touch (emails, Web page, homework hotline, and our parent portal that allows them to access student grades via a computer). Of course, not all parents have access to technology, so I provide the same information in different written formats. 
    - Creating a Web Site: It doesn’t have to be fancy. I have a basic Web site that includes the following: important numbers; email address short biography of myself and picture; overall explanation of what will be taught; importance of notebook and agenda homework policy; grading system; tutoring after school; supply list; expectations/goals; suggestions for reinforcing student learning in language arts and reading; pictures; and helpful Web sites.  

    Some of my fellow teachers include a lot more information on their Web sites and update them daily. I do not have time to change my site every day so I keep it simple but meaningful — do what works for you.

    - Publishing a Pamphlet: If you're not able to manage a Web site, you can always use the traditional newsletter or pamphlet created with Microsoft Publisher. Distribute this version to parents during Open House.

    - Sending Emails: I email homework/project assignment for a particular week on the Friday before. To make it easy, I create an address book for each class period, so I am really only sending one email out per period. 

    - Connecting to a Parent Portal: This year, my school is testing a program that will allow parents to access their child's grade via an online portal. Parents have to have an email address in order to access system. Once signed in, they can see their child’s progress, and recognize problem areas.
  8. Establish an Open Door Policy
    Sixth grade parents are sometimes hesitant to volunteer in their child’s classrooms, because middle school is much different than elementary school. In order to stay in touch with parents, I look for other ways to get them to stop by. For example, they are welcome to come in and observe me teaching. Another technique I use the Top Reader's Party. Every nine weeks I award my top readers with a pizza party or cupcake party and I extend an invitation to parents, acknowledging that they have helped with their child’s reading success.
  9. Intervene Via Parent Conferences
    I enjoy conferencing with my parents because it's the main way I communicate with parents. When planning conferences, I try to be as flexible as possible since some parents can only meet in the mornings or after school.  

    As part of my team's weekly meetings, we discuss goals for students’ progress (academic and behavior) and decide which students we will initiate parent conferences for. Usually all of the student’s teachers meet with the guardian/parent(s) during a conference. This can be intimidating for some parents, so I begin the conference by thanking and welcoming the parents. I always start a conference by saying something positive about the student. Every child has strengths that are worthy of being recognized. Then we proceed with the conference giving each teacher and parent an opportunity to voice concerns. I attempt to keep conferences on a positive note by reflecting on the statement, "It is not what you say, it is how you say it.” I am a parent, and I know how I want to be treated.