Ah, the parent-teacher relationship. Few things are as important … or potentially as challenging. Establishing good parent-teacher communication is key for every teacher and let’s face it, every parent too.
But while there’s no dearth of research showing that involved parents are crucial for a child’s educational success, parental involvement has been declining in recent years. Data from non-profit Learning Heroes has been showing a decline in parents helping with homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, and communication with teachers outside of conferences since 2016.
So how do you build a good parent-teacher relationship? And how do you maintain good parent-teacher communication throughout the school year?
We’ve got you covered!
Why Are Teacher Parent Relationships So Important?
As a teacher you’re probably saying, well of course the parent-teacher relationship is important, but maybe you need a few benefits to include on your next email home.
We’ll let the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools take it from here. Regardless of family income or background, they’ve found that students whose parents are involved are more likely to:
- Achieve higher grades and test scores
- Attend school regularly
- Have better social skills
- Show improved behavior
- Adapt well to school
Stacy Hohertz, a teacher who works with parent-teacher communication app ClassTag, puts it this way: “Parents are the number one advocate for their children. They are our partners in successfully educating their children.”
How Can Teachers Partner Effectively With Parents?
When you’re looking to establish good parent-teacher communication, one of the most important things is to remember that just about every parent wants to help their kids, and that’s where you come in!
“When teachers communicate with parents how their children are doing in class and the areas they need help improving, parents will jump on it,” Hohertz advises. “They just need to know where to start.”
The trouble? Teachers don’t have a lot of time to contact parents, and parents don’t have a lot of time to contact teachers.
According to stats from the National Center for Education Statistics, the biggest barrier to parental involvement — at least on the side of the school — was lack of time on the part of school staff to devote to nurturing that relationship with parents. And a nationally representative Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey conducted by the NCES found that only 42 percent of parents — fewer than half out of some 14,000 parents surveyed — had received a phone call from the school about their child during the 2015-2016 school year. The number was slightly better when it came to email — 62 percent of parents had gotten an individualized email about their child.
We know you’re busy with state mandates, testing, and more, so how do you cut through it all to build that solid relationship with the parents of all your students?
Parent-Teacher Communication Strategies
Here are some strategies that can help you create the ideal parent teacher relationship!
Provide Methods of Communication from the Get-Go
Give parents the best ways to reach you and the best times too — if they know you’re more of an email person, for example, that is helpful to know. And if you tend to check your email in the morning, well, that’s perfect for a parent to know. The more transparent you are about how you can be reached, the more comfortable parents will feel reaching out.
There’s really no such thing as over-communicating when it comes to parents and their child’s education. Hohertz has started sending out a weekly update in ClassTag on what her students are doing in class. “This gives parents an idea of what we are working on each day,” she explains.
Share a Calendar
Give parents the ability to look ahead at what’s going on — whether it’s when you’ll be studying particular units throughout the year or when your class has gym or library so parents can plan ahead to pack those library books or make sure their students are wearing sneakers. You can do this monthly, weekly — whatever works best for you.
Reach out about the little things…before they become big things – “Many teachers just brush off the small infractions and only call home for the big ones,” Hohertz says. “If they call about the small ones, the likelihood of reaching a big one decreases.”
You don’t have to make this a big to-do — a message in a system like ClassTag or an email will usually suffice.
Share Success Stories
“When students do amazing things in your classroom, share them!” Hohertz recommends. “Parents love seeing what their kids are doing well. Highlight the positive as much as possible.”
Calling home when there’s trouble is part of the job, but there’s a lot more fulfillment in being able to communicate with parents when their kids have a success story, not to mention it can help build a good relationship when parents aren’t always hearing negative things from you. These Positive Parent Notes are a great way to send home positive stories about a student’s day!
Start on a Positive Note
With that in mind, remember that even when there’s something troubling going on, parents need to hear that you’re on their child’s side.
“Even if a teacher needs to call a parent about a student acting up or having a failing grade, they should always begin the conversation by saying something positive about that child,” Hohertz advises. “.It sets the tone of the conversation, which is so important.”
Communicate About the Entire Class as Well as Individual Students.
Providing as much information about what is happening in class builds parents’ confidence in you and makes sure they feel included in their child’s education. It also helps to contextualize your experience, acting as a reminder of the fact that you care for a large number of children in addition to the child of that particular parent or caregiver. A class Twitter or Instagram account can be a great way to share information easily — although you may want to blur student faces or ensure everyone has gotten sign-off to have their photos used.
Be Mindful of Different Families
It is helpful to think about this kind of communication from each parent or caregiver’s perspective. The school-home communication strategy that you set up needs to work for them!
Do you have parents who cannot read written English or speak a language other than English? Do all of your families have regular access to a reliable internet connection or a smartphone with data? Are there students in the class who have a complex home or family situation that means they cannot be included in any whole-class or publically accessible communication?
Taking the time to ensure that ALL families will be able to maintain a form of communication with you is important, even if it does mean that what you set up for the majority of the class needs to be slightly modified for some.
Ask Parents for Help
Being a teacher can be a tough job; there’s no question. But you don’t have to go it alone. “No one knows their child better than they do,” Hohertz reminds colleagues. “Asking for their help shows that a teacher cares and is willing to do what is necessary to help their child.”
“I always end phone calls with parents the same way,” Hohertz says. “ I thank them for taking the time to talk to me. Yes, it is their student, but acknowledging that they are in the middle of their busy day of work goes a long way toward building a solid relationship.”
How do you maintain open communication with the families of your students?