Relationship building is one of many aspects of a busy educator’s life. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your success as a teacher grows from your ability to connect with and relate to your students. Developing cordial professional relationships with colleagues and administrators is also vital, because you’re all working towards the same goal: providing all students with a high-quality education.
And because you devote so much time to building positive relationships with the children and adults you see every day, you may not think much about your relationships with their parents. Chances are, you participate in parent-teacher conferences a few times a year, and reach out to parents and caregivers when there’s an academic or behavioral issue. But because you have a lengthy list of tasks and responsibilities, you may not think much about other ways to actively engage parents. If you teach younger students, you’re probably finding that they reach out to you often, but with older students, it’s not unusual for the opposite to be true. Regardless of age, all students need their parents to actively participate in their education.
Surveys of parents and teachers have revealed that strife and frustration exists on both sides of the relationship. But investing some time and effort into building partnerships with your parents can provide numerous benefits- for everyone. Here are some ideas:
Use your smartphone. Using an app to send texts or emails to your students’ parents might be something you hadn’t really thought of. But plenty of developers have thought of it, and as a result there’s an abundance of possibilities. Your specific needs and the age group you teach will help you zoom in on an app which will best help you meet your parent communication goals. This list of four great apps can help you get started. This article repeats a few apps from the first one, which may prove their popularity and usefulness, and includes a few additional ones. Setting up an app for your class can be a great way to remind them about field trips and due dates, and can facilitate easier communication.
Create a classroom blog. You’re probably thinking, “Are you nuts? I already have so much to do!” But keep in mind you don’t have to do it yourself. After the initial set up, student volunteers can run it, or you can require each student to write a post based on a schedule. Blogging is a great way to engage student writers because they’re writing for an authentic purpose and an audience who’s interested in what they have to say. And topics can be tailored to any academic area. The time you invest in monitoring the content will be worth what you get back. Students will enjoy the opportunity to write and publish, and their parents will be excited to read along. Providing your students’ parents with a regular peek into your classroom may help them feel more welcome and involved. Here are some great suggestions for increasing engagement your classroom blog.
Try a low-tech approach. We value the many ways technology has enhanced our lives, both inside and outside of the classroom, so it can be easy to forget there’s no real substitute for face-to-face contact. Parent-teacher conferences are a necessity- they provide an opportunity to review an individual student’s progress and discuss strengths and weaknesses. But conferences can sometimes be fraught with stress, for all involved parties. If your administration is on board, think of a few low-pressure ways you can invite parents into your classroom a couple times a year, to listen to poetry readings or observe the students doing science experiments. This list features additional suggestions for improving communication and parent engagement.
Remember that less is more. There’s no shortage in our world of social media platforms, communication apps, and ideas for classroom activities and events for parents. And your zeal for wanting to ramp up your efforts to involve parents might lead you to take on too much. Instead of using every possible channel, choose one or two you think you’ll find effective and practical and commit to them for the course of the school year. If one or both of your choices didn’t work as well as you’d hoped, it’s easy enough to find other options which will better meet your needs.
When it comes to partnering with parents, you might find it easier to go with the flow and assume no news is good news, but you won’t know what your students’ parents are thinking if you don’t ask. With everything you have to do each day, the idea of implementing a specific parent engagement plan might feel overwhelming, but the above tips can smooth out the process. Parents are a key part of your team, and you share the common goal of helping the students succeed.
Tracy Derrell is a Hudson Valley-based freelance writer who specializes in blogging and educational publishing. She taught English in New York City for sixteen years.