Building a good rapport with parents is vital to students' success. Beyond the initial meeting, I've found it essential to keep an open dialogue with parents. The everyday demands of teaching may make it hard to have a traditional one-on-one dialogue with parents frequently, but I've found that I can maintain good communication by carefully tracking performances that I want to review with parents and using technology wherever I can.

Starting Off Right

At the beginning of the school year, I use Open School Night to lay the foundation for a strong relationship with parents. It is clear that parents who attend Open School Night are concerned with their child's well being and education. They want to know what is going on in my classroom and how what happens here will ultimately benefit their child. There are two ways I provide parents with the information they want:

  1. Modeling the Classroom Experience: I get approval from my principal to arrange have my parents come in half an hour before open school night actually begins. I take that time to model a mini lesson and have parents participate in a small group assignment. I like using Scholastic's Vocabulary Routine. You can download the Vocabulary Routine Parent Activity Sheet I give to parents. Showing parents an example of an actual classroom lesson and assignment gives them a better understanding of how their child will developed both academically and socially through the year.
  2. Giving an Overview of Your Curriculum: As an additional presentation, I use a 5 to 10 minute walk through of a typical day in my classroom. As a READ 180 teacher, this presentation includes details about our reading program, expectations for students, how I organize my room, and the type of work students do in class. Including photos of real students and graphics that illustrate your classroom set up make it easier for parents to visualize a typical day. In instances where I don't have enough time for a mini lesson, I've used just this presentation to give parents a sense of what happens in my classroom.

Year-Long Parent Communication Tools

In the age of information, almost everything is done electronically. For me, this includes communicating with parents. I no longer rely solely on phone calls, letters, and in-person meetings. Fortunately, there are teaching tools that make corresponding electronically much easier. Three examples of the types of tools I work with:

Online Grading Systems: These are services that allow teachers to track students' grades, attendance, assignments, etc. and which allow parents to securely access information about their child's performance or upcoming work. In my district, we use Teacherease. Some of the advantages of this type of system include:

  • I can automatically send parents emails when grades and comments are entered for particular assignments.
  • Parents can send me email messages regarding assignments or their child's class performance.
  • Parents and students can get the information they need anytime — without having to contact me. The grading scale, current assignments, test scores (for their child only), behavior logs, attendance data, and similar information can be viewed whenever the parent or student logs in.
  • I have more flexibility about when and how I work on grading, so I can spend more time ensuring parents have up to date information.
  • It provides an easier way to keep parents involved in their child's education.

A recent study conducted by Teacherease showed a 41 percent decrease in missed assignments due to students and parents utilizing the company's service. The study also showed that access to this information increased student grades by almost a full grade level.

Student Data: As a READ 180 teacher, I have access to numerous reports that detail my students' academic strengths and areas in need of improvement.

If you don't use a program that automatically generates performance data that you can share with parents, you might consider other tools available that will help you inform parents of their child's academic performance. One of those tools is the Grow Report, which allows you to go one step further when discussing standardized test scores with parents. The service provides a report for a particular child based on test scores and includes a breakdown of the particular skills and strategies that the student is struggling with. Parents can use the parent tools on the site to find activities that can be done at home to further aid their child's academic growth. If you use this or a similar site, I recommend having an Internet-connected computer available during parent conferences so you can show parents how to navigate the site on their own.

Behavior Logs: I could never remember every occurrence of misbehavior in every class, which is why I keep detailed behavior logs. I have found them to be critical when conferring with parents. When I analyze data from my logs with parents and students, they can recognize patterns. It provides a much better way to discuss what needs to be done to change any unwanted conduct.