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February 13, 2017 “How's She Doing?” Effective Parent/Teacher Communication By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    “How’s she doing?” “How was his day?” “Did he work on his letters?” Again and again we hear these questions as parents drop off or pick up their children. Parents naturally want to keep their fingers on the pulse; they want to know how their child is spending her day, what she is learning, who she plays with and — sometimes — that she didn’t “get into trouble.” Parents want to know what we are studying — Is there a theme or “unit” of curriculum, or do we take the lead from the children? All reasonable and important questions best not answered at the classroom door during dismissal.

     

    I’m sure every classroom teacher has her or his preferred way of keeping parents in the loop. (Would you share one of yours on our Facebook page?) Starting with the most personal and moving out to broader all-class conversations, these are avenues that work for us:

    •   As-needed appointments: scheduled whenever teacher or a parent has an issue or question to discuss, or there is news to share.

    •   Parent/Teacher conferences: bi-annual half-hour conversations

    •   Fall curriculum meetings: opportunities for teachers to sketch out plans and goals for the year to come and remind parents of useful protocol

    •   Weekly newsletters: compilations of text and photos containing highlights of the past week

    Impromptu Meetings

    Let’s start with the as needed/ad hoc meeting between teacher and parent/s. Anyone may initiate a parent meeting, and, in most preschool worlds they occur fairly often. From the parent’s vantage point, these include topics such as: Kelly just doesn’t want to come to school, Leo complains that he is “bored,” I’m about to leave on a business trip, grandpa is in the hospital, etc. Teachers may speak to parents about: making greater efforts to arrive on time, Suzanne’s need to be in charge when playing with others, finding ways to support Joey’s emerging social skills, the amazing growth in Sarah’s block-building skills.

    Whatever the starting point, the goal is always to establish a trusting partnership so the child receives consistent support at home and in school, so parents and teachers are really working together. Easier said than done, right? 

    Here are a few tips for successful conferencing:

    •    Be ready to listen, even if a parent rambles, we’re all ears!

    •    Ask about at-home behaviors, “What are you seeing?”

    •    Be descriptive and anecdotal. Avoid labeling a child’s behavior. Our teachers often use words such as “puzzling” to describe a child’s actions. We are trying to understand them better.

    •    Include in-class interventions: Carly really benefits from close supervision and guidance. When we can provide it, her day goes more smoothly.

    •    End with a plan. This can be as simple as speaking again in a few weeks, or one with a range of follow-throughs.

    Parent/Teacher Conferences

    In our school, we hold conferences twice a year, in November and May, and we close school one day for each. The same guidelines listed above hold for conferences, the difference being that these meetings are more formal conversations. Teachers plan carefully for each conference. In their planning, I encourage educators to:

    •    Offer take-aways

    Prepare by thinking of three salient and important messages they would like parents to walk away with.  Hold on to these and be sure there is ample time to deliver and discuss them.

    •    Load up on anecdotes

    These allow you to share the flavor of a child’s participation and illustrate a point without naming it. And all parents love anecdotes!

    •    Begin the conference with positive observations

    There are wonderful things to say about every child.

    •    Follow these with your questions, concerns, or suggestions

    There are ways that even that super-competent children can make improved use of the classroom environment.

    •    Prepare for the tough messages

    If there is a hard message to deliver or dynamic to explore, don’t keep parents in suspense — introduce the issue kindly, calmly, and candidly early on in your talk. What can we do to better support your child? Teachers will have discussed these issues with me, their director, I’ll take the time to observe. Together with the associate teacher, we’ll talk through goals and language. As we all know, these conversations are incredibly sensitive and so very important. In most cases, I will participate in these meetings, aware that this is often the first time parents will be hearing a concern about their baby. Parents (especially those with a single child) may see their child as typically developing. They may not have an intuitive yardstick to gauge behavioral or language growth, for example. We offer that yardstick.

     

    Parent Orientation

    Our preschool invites parents in for an orientation just before the first day of school. This is the tone-setter: an opportunity to describe our philosophy and program, mission, and goals in a manner easy to understand and embrace. Our orientation includes parent visits to the ready classrooms, opportunities to meet their child’s teachers once again, and to hear the basics. These basics might include:

    •    Never hesitate to go to your teacher with questions. They want to hear from you.

    •    Make every possible effort to arrive to school on time. Soooo important!

    •    The steps in a gradual separation can be difficult to navigate, but they are worth the effort. Beginning the school year on secure footing is a great gift to your child.

    Curriculum Meeting

    In mid-October, teachers invite parents into the classroom for a curriculum presentation and discussion. By this time, we know our kids and will have tailored curriculum goals accordingly. The purpose of a curriculum is three-fold:

    •    to give parents of picture of learning goals and how we go about reaching them

    •    to hear parents’ questions and interests

    •    to describe, in a very general way, the sort of development they might expect of this age group.

    Weekly Newsletters

    And, last, but definitely not least, is the weekly newsletter that our teachers email to parents each Sunday. Through a combination of text and photos, these convey not only the highlights of a given week but also process — the ways that learning occurs in our class for your children. I’m extremely proud of our teachers’ approach to this regular communication, and know that parents look forward to each new update. I’ll let the following examples speak for themselves — just click on the images to read the PDF.

          

    “How’s she doing?” “How was his day?” “Did he work on his letters?” Again and again we hear these questions as parents drop off or pick up their children. Parents naturally want to keep their fingers on the pulse; they want to know how their child is spending her day, what she is learning, who she plays with and — sometimes — that she didn’t “get into trouble.” Parents want to know what we are studying — Is there a theme or “unit” of curriculum, or do we take the lead from the children? All reasonable and important questions best not answered at the classroom door during dismissal.

     

    I’m sure every classroom teacher has her or his preferred way of keeping parents in the loop. (Would you share one of yours on our Facebook page?) Starting with the most personal and moving out to broader all-class conversations, these are avenues that work for us:

    •   As-needed appointments: scheduled whenever teacher or a parent has an issue or question to discuss, or there is news to share.

    •   Parent/Teacher conferences: bi-annual half-hour conversations

    •   Fall curriculum meetings: opportunities for teachers to sketch out plans and goals for the year to come and remind parents of useful protocol

    •   Weekly newsletters: compilations of text and photos containing highlights of the past week

    Impromptu Meetings

    Let’s start with the as needed/ad hoc meeting between teacher and parent/s. Anyone may initiate a parent meeting, and, in most preschool worlds they occur fairly often. From the parent’s vantage point, these include topics such as: Kelly just doesn’t want to come to school, Leo complains that he is “bored,” I’m about to leave on a business trip, grandpa is in the hospital, etc. Teachers may speak to parents about: making greater efforts to arrive on time, Suzanne’s need to be in charge when playing with others, finding ways to support Joey’s emerging social skills, the amazing growth in Sarah’s block-building skills.

    Whatever the starting point, the goal is always to establish a trusting partnership so the child receives consistent support at home and in school, so parents and teachers are really working together. Easier said than done, right? 

    Here are a few tips for successful conferencing:

    •    Be ready to listen, even if a parent rambles, we’re all ears!

    •    Ask about at-home behaviors, “What are you seeing?”

    •    Be descriptive and anecdotal. Avoid labeling a child’s behavior. Our teachers often use words such as “puzzling” to describe a child’s actions. We are trying to understand them better.

    •    Include in-class interventions: Carly really benefits from close supervision and guidance. When we can provide it, her day goes more smoothly.

    •    End with a plan. This can be as simple as speaking again in a few weeks, or one with a range of follow-throughs.

    Parent/Teacher Conferences

    In our school, we hold conferences twice a year, in November and May, and we close school one day for each. The same guidelines listed above hold for conferences, the difference being that these meetings are more formal conversations. Teachers plan carefully for each conference. In their planning, I encourage educators to:

    •    Offer take-aways

    Prepare by thinking of three salient and important messages they would like parents to walk away with.  Hold on to these and be sure there is ample time to deliver and discuss them.

    •    Load up on anecdotes

    These allow you to share the flavor of a child’s participation and illustrate a point without naming it. And all parents love anecdotes!

    •    Begin the conference with positive observations

    There are wonderful things to say about every child.

    •    Follow these with your questions, concerns, or suggestions

    There are ways that even that super-competent children can make improved use of the classroom environment.

    •    Prepare for the tough messages

    If there is a hard message to deliver or dynamic to explore, don’t keep parents in suspense — introduce the issue kindly, calmly, and candidly early on in your talk. What can we do to better support your child? Teachers will have discussed these issues with me, their director, I’ll take the time to observe. Together with the associate teacher, we’ll talk through goals and language. As we all know, these conversations are incredibly sensitive and so very important. In most cases, I will participate in these meetings, aware that this is often the first time parents will be hearing a concern about their baby. Parents (especially those with a single child) may see their child as typically developing. They may not have an intuitive yardstick to gauge behavioral or language growth, for example. We offer that yardstick.

     

    Parent Orientation

    Our preschool invites parents in for an orientation just before the first day of school. This is the tone-setter: an opportunity to describe our philosophy and program, mission, and goals in a manner easy to understand and embrace. Our orientation includes parent visits to the ready classrooms, opportunities to meet their child’s teachers once again, and to hear the basics. These basics might include:

    •    Never hesitate to go to your teacher with questions. They want to hear from you.

    •    Make every possible effort to arrive to school on time. Soooo important!

    •    The steps in a gradual separation can be difficult to navigate, but they are worth the effort. Beginning the school year on secure footing is a great gift to your child.

    Curriculum Meeting

    In mid-October, teachers invite parents into the classroom for a curriculum presentation and discussion. By this time, we know our kids and will have tailored curriculum goals accordingly. The purpose of a curriculum is three-fold:

    •    to give parents of picture of learning goals and how we go about reaching them

    •    to hear parents’ questions and interests

    •    to describe, in a very general way, the sort of development they might expect of this age group.

    Weekly Newsletters

    And, last, but definitely not least, is the weekly newsletter that our teachers email to parents each Sunday. Through a combination of text and photos, these convey not only the highlights of a given week but also process — the ways that learning occurs in our class for your children. I’m extremely proud of our teachers’ approach to this regular communication, and know that parents look forward to each new update. I’ll let the following examples speak for themselves — just click on the images to read the PDF.

          

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