We all know keeping parents in the loop is a top priority. I try to invite parents to the school as often as I can so that they can have an active role in their child’s education.
Meet the Teacher
Like most teachers, I start the school year with a parent meeting, which I usually host in the morning. Beforehand, I send home a letter home to invite the parents and include the Clue Me In form — for the parent to fill out with information about their child — a supply list, and a wish list. In my letter, I emphasize to parents that it is voluntary and that they can get involved as little or as much as they would like. I do not want parents to feel obligated if they cannot afford to do extra. However, I do make sure to send home a thank you note to the ones that do send in items from the wish list.
Setting a comfortable and inviting environment helps to establish a good rapport with parents that lasts the entire year. Plus, offering parents a peek into everyday learning in the classroom helps them feel like they are part of their child's day. I've found that the following go a long way in creating the right mood:
- Pastries and coffee/juice
- Sign-in sheets on each table with a cup of pens
- Photo albums with pictures from the previous school year. This allows parents to see what their child's experience will be like.
- A brain teasing puzzle on the table. (Parents love trying to figure out a challenge that their own child will work on!)
- I also use a power-point presentation to introduce our program and myself. I give parents background information on me, go through the program design, and explain the strategies we use to teach. I include pictures of the students from the previous year. Parents receive a handout of the slides. They also have the chance to ask questions anytime during the presentation.
My goal is to make it a personal meeting where they feel like they get a better picture of what I’m like and what my classroom is like.
I always have parents that cannot make the meeting, and I understand that. After the meeting, I put together a packet of all the hand-outs from the meeting and I include a letter that is sent home with the student. I want the parents who are unable to attend to still be included.
During the School Year
At the beginning of a unit, I send home a parent letter explaining our new unit and what I’m hoping to accomplish with the unit. We work on a new unit about every 6 weeks. In addition to keeping parents up to date about what’s going on, this gives them a chance to volunteer to help out in the classroom if they have something to share or add to the unit. Most of the time, just one parent comes into the classroom at a time and I try to be flexible so that I can work around the parent’s schedule. However, I have had to coordinate several parents to work. For example, we have a holiday store around the winter break and my parents volunteer to work the store before school begins in the mornings for a week. That one can be tricky, but it has always worked out in the end.
I have found that parents have many hidden talents! I once had a parent who was an artist on the side. We worked on an art unit and the parent volunteered to come teach the class a unique watercolor technique. The students painted their artwork and they were beautiful! We ended up having a gallery opening for all the parents to come see our art. Another parent was a magician who joined us for a study of magic and illusions. The father worked with students on stage presence and performing several tricks. My students wrote a magic show and invited the kindergarten and 1st graders to attend. I always try to find out some of the hobbies my parents have because you just never know what you’ll find!
At the end of a unit, I send home all of the child’s papers in an envelope with a critique stapled to the outside of the envelope. Parents are able to review the critique, make comments, and return the envelope Parents keep their child’s papers. This is not required; however, the majority of my parents will return it the next day. If I do not receive the envelope back within a week, I will email or call the parent to make sure they have received it, and I will request that they return it. Most of the time, it was just an oversight in their busy lifestyles and they are quick to follow through. I’m fortunate in that I have never had a parent not show any type of interest. Our school has extremely involved parents.
Updating parents following each unit lets them see the whole picture; rather than getting bits and pieces sent home out of context, they receive a final picture of what the unit was about, how their child participated in the lessons, and what their child got out of the entire unit.
I keep parents aware of what's happening in the classroom through two other methods:
The School Newsletter: The newsletter goes out every 6 weeks (at the same time as report cards). I contribute articles for the publication, which describe what my class has been studying, field trips we have been on, and other interesting news from our classroom.
Progress Reports: Parents also receive their child’s progress report at the end of each semester, which gives them a summary of how their child is doing in the program. I request a conference at this point if the student is not performing in the classroom or behavior is becoming an issue. The parents are good about requesting a conference if they have concerns or questions as well. I generally will conference with the parents twice during the school year. I also communicate via phone or email throughout the year.
An Open Door Policy
I keep an open door policy with my parents throughout the year. I do explain in my initial parent meeting that they cannot come in unannounced during school hours because it would disrupt the classroom. However, parents can contact me and set up times to come in to volunteer. If a parent begins “popping in” often when I have not worked it out with them, I will talk to them and request that they work with me on appropriate times to come into the classroom.
Typically, if I have a problem with a student, whether it’s behavior or work habits, I will contact the parent immediately either by telephone or email. If I do not get in touch with one of the parents or I do not hear back from them, then I will schedule a conference through the administration.
My approach boils down to three steps:
1) Always keep in contact with parents.
2) If there is a difficult situation, listen to them first and try to diffuse the problem. I try to be compassionate but not defensive.
3) If all else fails, reach out to the administration for help.