Part 4 In A 5 Part Series

Parent have the ability to make a first year teacher’s life AWESOME…or HORRIBLE!  Once way to make sure your parents back you up instead of work against you is to include them in various aspects of classroom life.

The whole dance team concept can be overwhelming for the dancers…and the parents.  The long hours before and after school, money spent on dance costumes and dance competitions (including travel and hotel stay), fund raisers, even setting up Fall and Spring showcases in school gyms or performing arts centers can be quite chaotic for the dancer…AND THE PARENTS OF DANCERS.  But an awesome dance instructor will find a way to communicate with the parents what is happening now, what will be happening, and what parents can do to make the experience(s) more impacting. 

One thing I will give my daughter’s dance instructor props for (there are many, but I want to focus on this one today) is her ability to include parents in all aspects of the dance experience.  My wife and I receive emails, hand written letters, and regular updates via text which keeps us up to date on all that is happening in our dancer’s life.  When payments are due for competitions, where to purchase costume items, and even the results of the past week’s competitions are all communicated to all the parents in some form or another. 

Furthermore, our dance teacher/director/instructor invites and encourages parents to email, back with questions.  She is open and willing to help in any way she can.  The simple fact is, when the parents know what is going on (or what will be going on) the better prepared the dancers are.  Before every dance competition, there are several conversations taking place between parents and the dance director.  She wants to make sure that all the girls will have their needed supplies, that parents will have the dance schedule, that the volunteers will deliver the props to the correct place (on time), that meals are taken care of days (sometimes weeks) in advance, and that all stakeholders are on the same page.

My Experience

As a teacher, I can relate.  For the first year or so of teaching, including parents in any aspect of the learning process was not very high on my to-do list.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to include them…it was just that I didn’t make time to include them.  Looking back, I can see that not communicating with parents was a huge mistake.  One that I am always sharing with new teachers in hope that they will see the value of opening a line of communication with parents and guardians of the students we teach.

Somewhere around my second year I was fretting over classroom supplies.  I was teaching Art, and my supply closet was looking pretty bare.  As a teacher, I didn’t have the money in my pocket to go and purchase the needed materials, and my tiny budget from classroom supplies had been spent at the first of the year.  So, I decided to send out a mass email to the parents of students in my Art class and ask if they either had supplies laying around the house OR if they’d be willing to go and purchase the needed supplies from a store and donate them to our supply closet.  The response I got was awesome.  I had parents bringing me supplies from their homes and others who went to the local art store and purchased stuff.  I was amazed.  It was in that moment that I decided to keep parents in the loop at all times. 

Volunteering time and supplies is not the only reason to keep the lines of communication open between teacher and parent.  The following year, once I had set up email lists for each class and set up my Remind text software (formerly Remind 101), I had a situation that called for a more personal form of Teacher-Parent communication, and having my email lists set up came in quite handy. 

That year, I had a student who had started the year off wonderfully.  She was in one of my Technology classes, and she had started showing a bit of attitude toward me, her other teachers, and some of her classmates.  As I investigated, I learned that she had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was attempting to become a little “gangsta” because she thought that was “cool.”  I pulled her aside one day to explain to her that her current direction was not only hurting her grades…but was having a negative impact on her friendships with classmates she had been friends with for years.  Unfortunately, my advice fell on deaf ears.  She continued to “dabble” in the whole gang scene.

So, being a concerned teacher, I reached out to her mom via email.  The mother was grateful that I had given her a heads-up, and thankfully used her “motherly ways” to redirect her child.  After a few weeks, the student stopped hanging out with students who were dragging her down, and her grades (and relationships with classmates) started to improve.  For years after that, the mother would always drop a line asking how I was, and would thank me for taking the time to reach out to her and let her know what was going on in the life of her child.  I hate to think what might have happened if I hadn’t communicated my concerns with the mother.

As teachers, we need to keep parents in the loop.  They can not only help if there are classroom supply needs, but they can be a second line of defense in our constant struggle to maintain classroom policy and student safety.  Too often I hear teachers say they don’t want to contact parents because all they will do is blame the teacher and tell us to fix it.  That may happen one out of every 40 conversations we have with parents.  The reality is, parents want to be involved.  They want to know what they can do to help, and they want to know that we are watching after their most precious treasures…their children.

Stay Connected

Keeping parents informed of what is taking place in our classroom is actually easier than is sounds.  The following steps will help you stay connected to the parents (and guardians) of your students:

  • Collect Emails: Open-House Night is a great time to collect your parents email addresses. Typically parents will follow an abbreviated version of their child’s class schedule and visit with their child’s teachers for about 5 minutes.  This is a great time for you to ask your parents to write down their email addresses on a sign-in sheet as they enter (or exit) your classroom. 
  • Have Parents Join Your “Remind” Groups: During Open-House OR in a brief email, inform your parents about your Remind lists. For those who don’t yet know, Remind is a free software that allows you to create lists (classes) of phone numbers which then allows you to shoot texts to parents informing them of class events, class needs, etc.  You can send mass texts to the parents of every student in the class, OR you can text individual parents.  I suggest you create a slide that has the “join my Remind list” instructions on it and have it ready to go during your school’s Open-House.
  • Share Your Contact Info: NEVER, never, never give parents your personal email or personal phone number…NEVER. They will email, call, and text you at all hours of the day and night if you do…so don’t.  BUT, go give them your school email address and your classroom phone extension.  Most schools have a way for parents to contact teachers via the campus website, but it is more convenient for them if you simply give them your contact info.  I suggest placing your school email and classroom phone number on one of the slides of your Open-House presentation.  Give parents a minute or two to copy down your contact info, then let them know they can contact you anytime AND that you will try and reply to them as soon as possible.  Feel free to let them know that you do not answer emails and/or phone calls on the weekend or after 5:00pm…they will understand.  Parents just need to know they have an open line of communication with their child’s teacher.  As a parent I can tell you…this makes us feel better.

Take Away

Keep parents in the loop.  They are a great resource tool in that they can supply much needed volunteer time and classroom supplies, and they are awesome partners who can help with classroom discipline issues and academic concerns.  Parents want to know what is going on in the life of their child when they are in school.  MOST (not all) are willing to help teachers and schools in any way they can.  As teachers, all we need to do is reach out and communicate with them.  Parents can be great allies if we are willing to include them.

~Mitch

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