3 Easy Strategies For Positive Parent Engagement In Schools
Communicating and engaging your students’ parents can be stressful. Use these 3 quick and easy strategies to engage parents and build a strong parent-teacher relationship.
Parents Are Scary
Let’s face it. You love your students. You starting building that special bond with them the minute they walked through your door. But there’s another part of your students that you don’t see. Their parents. And to be honest parents can be pretty scary.
If you’ve been a teacher for any amount of time you’ve been attacked, confronted, demeaned, or scrutinized by a parent. It doesn’t feel good. But if I told you that 90% of those uncomfortable situations could be eliminated with 3 easy strategies would you take steps to make it happen? Of course you would.
Parents Are Scary But Teachers Are Scarier
One of the reason parents attack is because they feel threatened and/or frustrated. The reason they feel threatened is because they don’t know how much you want their child to be safe and to succeed. (And, if you don’t want their child to be safe or succeed with all your heart stop teaching and go get another job.)
They don’t know because they haven’t seen or heard it from you. Why? Is it because you’ve allowed some negative thinking into your head?
Here’s some phrases I’ve said to myself or heard from others. See if any of them sound familiar.
“I’m too busy to deal with parents.”
“Parents only want to know when their child is struggling.”
“It’s the students responsibility to tell the parents what’s going on at school.”
“It’s the parents responsibility to know what’s going on at school and their just too busy to be bothered with their child’s education.”
“If parents are that concerned, they’ll call.”
“I don’t want parents in my classroom because of confidentiality issues.”
“Parents in the classroom just make more work for me.”
“I don’t want parents in my classroom because of confidentiality issues.”
“Parents in the classroom just make more work for me.”
“No one reads the newsletter.”
“I told the students to tell their parents. I can’t help it if they didn’t.”
“Parents are so uninvolved these days.”
“Parents believe their child before they believe me.”
“Parents expect me to teach them everything.”
“Parents don’t care.”
Wow! Pretty negative. You might even believe some of these. The truth is that even if all of these phrases were 100% true every minute of every day it still wouldn’t change the fact that communicating, and engaging parents is one of the most important parts of your job.
Two Models of Communication- Which One is Best?
This is how the school year starts out. Most of the information is getting funneled from you to the students and then to the parent.
Did you know that parents are actually yearning for information straight from you? They want to know how to help their child be successful. They want to know how they can help. They want to know what their child is learning and what’s going on in the classroom. They are just as excited about the new opportunities a new school year brings. And they want to hear it from you. Why? Because at this point, they DO trust you and they DO see you as the the expert. Are you going to let them down by believing and living those negative statements from before OR are you going to be THAT TEACHER who cared enough to step outside the norm and communicate and engage?
How Do You Become THAT TEACHER?
You want your communication/enagement to look like this:
The more common experiences you can provide to both student and parent the better. Don’t let the information get delivered by an 5, 8 or 12 year old.
But if you make it hard for them to get information or they start to get A LOT of information that has been filtered through their child’s lens of understanding then you’re going to start to loose them right out of the shoot and the communication model is going to break down and your life is going to get real bad, real fast.
Time now = Happiness Later
These strategies take time especially at first. Give yourself some grace in these tasks. By that I mean you are going to have to give something up to get these established as soon as you can. You just so much energy and time, so don’t waste it. This is the most urgent and important task on your to-do list, even through everything with every student might be going along hunky dory right now I guarantee that the ships going to run into some rough waters. So throw some of your grading in the garbage and get this done. You’ll be so glad you did.
Strategy 1- Calling Parents
This is the scariest one. It’s like a cold call in sales. Like a blind date. You’re not sure what exactly you are going to get. It’s ok. Just pick up the phone and dial. Be THAT TEACHER. You don’t have to worry about what to say because you can download and use the provided script below. Make it short and sweet and be your amazing, wonderful self. The objective here is to let parents know you care, nothing more. You can do it.
Now here’s what’s going to happen on the other end of the line. The parents are going to go straight to full on anxiety that their kid has done something horrible at school and the teacher is calling to tattle. But, with the script you are going to let them know right off the bat that their anxiety is all for not. Put them at ease and be friendly. Their heart rate will come down and by the time you are done with the call they will hang up with a smile on their face.
The Really Hard Part
Here’s the hard part. They are going to think that you were required to call them. They will think that it is a task that you were made to perform. (And it might be required in your district) but if you call them again in a week with the same exact intention they will know you really care. (PS- use the same script. It will work every time you call.)
Here’s the script.
If There Are Student Issues
If there are issues in the classroom go ahead and address them now. It's never too soon.
Being diplomatic and choosing your words wisely is always a good thing to reflect upon but if you struggle with how to say something without sounding judgmental here are a few issues and the words you may want to use to start a discussion.
How To Start The Conversation
Student's immaturity is effecting class performance.
We are working on having big kid behaviors and learning about appropriate behavior in school.
Student's lack of body control is effecting class performance.
He/She is working on keeping our hand and feet to ourselves.
Student's lack of voice control is effecting class performance.
He’s so passionate about learning and sharing knowledge. He’s working really hard on remembering to take turns talking.
Student is showing anger issues.
He/She working on how to show their emotions appropriately.
Student is shy and it is effecting class performance.
She is adjusting well. She’s very quiet. We will work on making sure she is participating fully in each lesson.
Student may have academic deficits.
He/She is working really hard learning some beginning kindergarten skills. Did she go to preschool?
The parent indicates that their child is gifted or bored in class.
Does your child have any special interests of hobbies?
Strategy 2- Get Them In The Classroom
Another way to communicate and engage parents is by getting them to be directly involved with the classroom activities. If you’ve been a teacher for a while you've received the ultimate compliment from a parent who has spent some time in your classroom. “I don’t know how you do this everyday. I leave after an hour of being here and I’m exhausted. You’re amazing.” (Then they give you a really great gift card at Christmas.) They see how much passion you put into your students. They see how much you care and how you are teaching them more than just the 4rs. There’s no better way to get a parent “on you side”.
3 Types of Volunteers and How To Engage Them
Having parents in your room can be a lot of work and we all know that some of them are not there to help but to spy. Here’s what I have to say about that… If they have the need to spy then more than likely I’m not be giving them something they need. So I’ve actually asked them. “I love having you come help out in class. What is it that you hope to accomplish while you are here?” Their answers will surprise you. If they are in class to spy on their own kid then there’s really no sense in going any further. Let them. I guarantee they will get tired of it. Being a classroom volunteer is too much work. Once they see that their child is doing fantastic they will quit their quest.
The Volunteer (Spy)
If they are there to spy on a “problem” student then get them out of the classroom doing stuff like making copies, cutting paper, filling glue bottles, cleaning glue off of scissors, leveling books, going through old markers to see which ones are still inky, cleaning math manipulatives, reading one on one with students in the hall, giving individualized spelling tests, calling other parents to organize a class party, organizing construction paper, taking down and putting up student work on hallway bulletin boards, designing and making hallway bulletin boards, etc, etc, etc. These parent spies will also get tired of their jobs outside the classroom. (But shazam, by the time they get sick of being in class you’ve gotten a lot of work out of them.
Then there’s the amazing volunteers. They are the ones that come in quiet. Know their job. Do it and leave. Here’s the trick. You have to tell them (just like your students) how they need to behave in your classroom. Remember you are the boss. If they can’t do the job give them a different job like cutting out calendar pieces in the privacy of their own home. However, some of these volunteers are just amazing and when they come through your door your like… “Yesssss, the classroom gods have smiled on me today.” They are the ones that you could probably (but would never) leave the classroom, go get some coffee in the teachers lounge, and get caught up on you twitter feed.
Strategy 3- Use Technology to Show-N-Tell and Engage Parents
Show of hands,- have you ever sent home a newsletter or note only to find that 3 out of 27 sets of parents actually received AND read the information. Ugggg. So frustrating. Guess what, it is as frustrating for the parents.
With today’s technology the level of easy access info has never been weeelllll….. easier.
Here are two technology tools I’ve used and have found to be very effective. They are easy to set up and will up the engagement and communication game in your classroom 100 fold.
They take a bit of time at first (just like anything) but they will save your bacon more that you will know.
This is an amazing app that looks a little like facebook. The students post, the teacher approves the post, and parents and other students can see and comment on their post. Use it to show off any type of happenings in the classroom. The support and ideas for implementation are endless. If you are looking for an easy and effective way of upping your parent engagement without them stepping through your door, this is your answer. Click the logo to read about Seesaw.
Remind and Band
I’ve used and loved the Remind app. It is like a instant message that goes out to only your students and/or student parents. Like SeeSaw it is very private. I used it a lot to send home newsletters, spelling words, field trip reminders, party reminders, general communication. You send it and parents, who have signed up, and they get it directly to their device. Easy for them and for you. Yahoo.
Your Privacy Is Important-The Remind and Band Apps
Another reason I love it is because as a teacher you want to be available to parents but you also feel the need to keep your personal information private. If you do get a parent who is less than amicable then you really don’t want them know your private number. It just feels a little too familiar or evasive. With Remind it goes through the app and they don’t know your person info.
Band is similar to Remind. I have not used Band but I’ve heard really great things. To check out the similarities and differences go here.
Getting parents information, and engaging them in their child’s education, is a powerful tool in ensuring students are getting the best educational experience possible. After you get to know (and dare I say “like”) the parents of your students you will find that they want the same thing as you and that is to make sure their child is safe and learning at their fullest potential.
Homework….. Teachers hate giving it, collecting it, recording it. Parents are confused by it and students just hate it period. Come on back to simplify the homework and make it an event that students and parents will enjoy. (Really? Enjoy? For real?…. Yep for real.)