Partnerships with Parents
By Lauren F. Nichols, Berlin Teachers Association, National Board Certified Teacher, NYSUT Effective Teaching Program Instructor
Teachers that promote active involvement of parents in their child's education not only receive parental support but also exhibit to their students and their families caring and contributions they can make toward the students success. The educational values of our students come from what they have learned at home so it makes sense to create a personal connection with each family setting the stage for a positive attitude about school. In some situations this will be much easier than others but the time and effort put into this will have direct and indirect effects on student motivation and achievement. Regular contact and interactions with parents open up the lines of communication alleviating misunderstandings and possible conflicts. Positive interactions with parents can truly make a difference as we encourage and enable the home environment to support student learning.
Creating a partnership with parents looks quite different at elementary school, middle school and high school but the importance remains the same. This is an invaluable opportunity for educators to learn more about their students, gain support of parents, and provide parents with information they need and want, all of which helps meet the educational and developmental goals set for students.
In elementary school regular parent conferences and frequent positive contacts promote parent interest and involvement in our schools. Weekly or biweekly communication in the form of a newsletter or letter to parents ensure all parents are up to date on curriculum, special events, class successes, and how parents can help and encourage their child. This is also a great vehicle to ask for support, class volunteers, and even needed items such as tissues, pencils, and recycled items such as egg cartons. Personal notes and phone calls for individual situations help to establish relationships with families and builds trust that you value their input and will share information about their child. This doesn't have to be a lot of work. You can create templates or form letters such as; Please help Mary with..., Items needed for class projects, and We've had a success in 2nd Grade...These types of communication encourage collaboration between teacher and parents leading to more participation in school activities and events.
In middle school, a major transition for all children, communicating with parents offers you insights into issues that affect the child and their families. Here is a chance to assist families to overcome obstacles, develop trusting relationships and promote better self image in our students. More independence is expected of the child and informed parents are more able to be active participants in contributing to their child's success. Engage your students to help with this endeavor by having them create the letter, newsletter, or contact form of which the teacher signs. This will not only help the student own the responsibility of their learning but also this can result in parent involvement with study skills, independence in learning and better behavior.
High school teachers have a logistical nightmare with the number of students they teach but you too should have a vehicle for regular communication and contact with parents. Again use your students to make it more feasible. Tap into their ability and skill at recognizing their peers contributions and successes. Use their creativity to come up with a form letter or note to families. Parents have the most control over their child and getting them involved will result in better homework, attendance and a positive attitude toward school. In some cases it can be the catalyst that lessens dropout rate.
When conferencing or meeting with parents active listening is a vital skill that leads to parents feeling understood, valued, encouraging parents to jump on board with us. Parents provide a wealth of information and insight that can help at all stages of a child's life. Remember that parents are our students first and most influential teachers. They know their child best! Even when you have concerns, remembering this and even sharing it with the parents lessens discomfort and feelings of intimidation and promotes parents feeling valued. You'll get much more support from parents when they feel like a key member of the team. NYSUT Education and Learning Trust offers a great dynamic workshop, Parent Teacher Conference Workshop for new members and veterans alike. This research-based program instructed by highly skilled and trained experienced teachers will offer you ideas for pre-conference planning, Open House, common elements of Parent-Teacher Conferences at various levels of teaching, and communication skills such as nonverbal messages. If your district doesn't already offer it ask your administrator or union representative for this great professional development opportunity.
Positive interactions with parents through effective forms of communications provide the basis for the parent and child's security particularly in elementary school. In middle school and high school this connection says to families that they are cared about and that they are part of a supportive team whose goal is student achievement academically and socially. Keeping parents abreast of what is going on at school, with curriculum and most importantly for their child creates an environment of greater achievement and parent involvement in education. Communication, collaboration, and support is the name of the game and if you are willing to stick your neck out and put the time and energy into this the pay off is big. Parents who are involved in the education of their child create a positive attitude about school and value the importance of education thus leading the child to having a similar belief.
Regular positive communications need to outweigh contact with parents about problems. Often we are so busy that the daily successes aren't shared with parents and we only take time to seek out the parents with issues. You'll find that when you contact a parent to meet or write a letter they are expecting a problem. Be part of changing this mentality. Communication to parents should be regular, sharing successes and difficulties. When conferencing, writing, or phoning a parent begin with something that shows you care about their child, see their strengths or understand their interests. Parents are grateful that you recognize the child they know and love and will be more ready to deal with the issue or problem you are bringing up. Making sure that you speak to them with respect and not in a condescending tone will get more support from them. Listen well, acknowledge the parents' concerns or stresses. End the conference or communication on a positive note with appreciation to parents of their support and finally with a message that you are confident things will work out. Parents are a resource not to be forgotten, working in collaboration creates an environment of mutual respect and support and these efforts are meaningful for all.