Tips for Creating Positive Partnerships with Parents
Positive parent (guardian) and teacher partnership are essential for student success. While some parents have the time and/or resources to dedicate to the classroom or students, and others have significantly less, parents are an essential part of the education equation.
While there may be some criticism on "both sides of the fence," it is important that the student's needs are kept at the forefront and that everyone is working in partnership for the students' success—together.
Here are four tips for teachers to help foster a positive relationship with parents/guardians - and create a win/win/win for all:
Be transparent about your availability to parents/guardians -
Within our school environments, we often know the best way to get ahold of our colleagues. The principal prefers email; a department chair likes voicemail; a close colleague is best through text, and so on. Parents are not part of our day-to-day operations, and it isn't always obvious to them how to get ahold of us.
Include your best contact info at Back to School Night, Parent Conferences, Open House, and your website if you have one. Tell parents if (and when) they can contact you through:
- Email (make sure the address is easily accessible)
- Voicemail (make sure your extension is listed on the syllabus, website, etc.)
- The Learning Management System of your school
- Social Media
- Text (one of my local schools has gone to parent/teacher texting via celly).
- Walk-in hours
It may seem obvious, but after you communicate this information you must follow through. This is one of the most common frustrations I hear from parents. A teacher will say that email is best but then not consistently check it or respond to it or they may say that social media is always available and then not update for months.
Communicate clearly and openly when you will be available, and when you will not be available. You are not expected to be available 24/7 (even if some parents or students believe otherwise), but being transparent about the time that you do check voicemails, email, etc. as well as the timeframe for which you will respond will set clear expectations and reduce frustration and disappointment on all fronts. (see Setting Boundaries below)
Set clear boundaries for communication -
Communicating clearly about your availability as well as your response time/days will reduce frustration for everyone. To have positive parent interactions you must set boundaries.
Here are some boundaries that I find helpful:
- Establish a 24-hour response time. This is fair to both parties. I also keep this standard on the weekends, but you may want to make it 48 hours on non-school days. Communicate what you decide to parents, so they know what to expect.
- Conference when necessary: Some situations warrant a meeting. Instead of writing a long email that may be misconstrued because of tone or jargon, don't be afraid to ask for a phone call or a meeting. Conversely, if it can be communicated clearly in an email, save everyone the time and write a clear and concise email with follow-up expectations that everyone can agree to.
- Let them know of any pitfalls to communication. For me, this is voicemail. Even with a post-it on my computer monitor and a recurring cellphone reminder, I have the hardest time remembering to check my school voicemail. Our phones don't have a flashing red light or any other indication that we have a message, so voicemails occasionally go unnoticed. Voicemails are also unavailable over the weekend, so that the response time can be much longer for multiple reasons.
Be proactive with positive contact -
It can be daunting when you have 200 students spread over five periods, but sending an authentic positive note or call home sets the stage for open and positive communication later if or when you need to discuss any issues. Email is better (and quicker) for me, but a phone call is preferable when email access is limited. Some of the positives you can use to contact parents include:
- High test/quiz scores
- Consistent effort
- Additions to class discussion
- Taking responsibility
- Coming in for extra help when needed
- Helping others when needed
- Anything else you notice!
Use technology (if appropriate). You know your school demographics best. If parents have access to technology, use it to your advantage! Here are two ideas:
- Cel.ly: This service allows you to use texting for academic purposes safely and privately. There are many applications for cel.ly in the classroom, but one is for parent communication. Parents can opt into the service with a simple text. The website offers printable instructions for teachers, students, and parents. Once it is set up, parents can text you within appropriate boundaries. You don't have to give out your actual phone number, and you can set acceptable hours for texts. You can text privately with individual parents and send out announcements to the entire list.
- Google Forms: If your students' parents can access your website, you can quickly embed a google form that will help you schedule parent communication. You can make specific fields required, which is nice because it ensures you get all the proper information to contact them back, and you can prepare yourself to discuss their comment or concern.