The Fresh Prince Will Smith, one of the great philosophers of the 1980s, observed in his 1988 hit "Parents Just Don’t Understand" well, that parents just don't understand. I’ve found that the majority of parents want to understand and offer whatever help they are capable of, they just need some guidance. To help create great working relationships, here are some tips on how to work closely with your families.
We’ve all heard about the parent/home connection but to make it, the teacher needs to take the lead:
My beginning of the year handbook covers everything from dropping kids off in the morning to what differentiation is — and what it looks like in my room — to the fact that I’m not perfect. This starts my relationship with parents and lets them know that they are integral to the success of our school year. There is nothing that goes on in my classroom that I can't share with my parents.
Don’t only share what you are doing in the classroom but share why you are doing it. This will help give parents the background to reinforce what you are teaching at home.
By sharing small things about your life, in conversations or newsletters, you acknowledge that what goes on in your classroom is not the only thing that happens in your students’ worlds.
I send home weekly newsletters. By letting my students' parents know what is going on, I facilitate their dinner conversations. If you have your own child, you know that getting information from him or her can be like pulling teeth. There are few things more aggravating for a parent then after a day's absence from your child and asking, “What did you do today?” and getting, “Stuff,” “Nothing,” or “I don’t remember,” in return. In the newsletters I include pictures of what we did the week before as well as all the exciting things their kids will be learning the next week. These newsletters are emailed every weekend.
Send quick emails or notes to parents with cute or funny stories about their children. I usually start these out with, "Just wanted to share something that made me smile today," and then tell the story. I end with a "Have a great day!" Parents love hearing about what happens in the classroom.
Parents get nervous when it’s time for conferences. They are coming in to hear you talk about their child. As a parent and a teacher, I can say it’s far more unnerving to be on the parent side of the table.
When my daughter was two, I remember a conference at her preschool. The teacher said, “Ella is a natural leader.” Being fluent in “teacher-speak” myself, I knew that she meant that my daughter was bossy. My wife and I already knew Ella was bossy, but it’s still hard to hear someone else say it, even when they say it nicely.
Here are a few tricks to help make the parents feel like they are part of their student’s educational team:
Sit on the same side of the table, with the parents. This helps take away the “us versus them” feeling and creates a sense of teamwork.
Have adult chairs set out for all attending. I have been guilty of not pulling over a teacher chair before a conference began. It is easy to forget, but if I wait until the parents are about to sit in the little-bitty kindergartener seat, then it looks like an afterthought.
Have a couple of bottles of cold water and some small candies available to offer. I know when I’m nervous, having something to fidget with in my hands will calm me down and we all know how important hydration is. I have seen teachers offer coffee and doughnuts, but bottled water and small candy is enough to show that you appreciate their coming.
Set out notepads and pens for yourself and the parents. They may want to take notes about what you say and you may want to do the same. I try to have notepads that match our classroom theme (which this year is Monstergarten) so that if a parent lays it down at home and finds it later they will immediately associate it with our classroom.
In the beginning, make sure you ask how they think the school year is going. This lets the parent know that you value their input.
Before you finish the visit ask, “What can I do for you?” Chances are that you have given them ideas what they can do at home that will help their child at school, but asking them what you can do for them gives them a chance to share any concerns that you may be able to help them handle. All working relationships need to be a two-way street.
I know that there are some unique and creative ways that you have that help make your parent/teacher conferences more personal and I’d love to hear them!
I can’t wait to see you next week!