What Are The Messages That Every Teacher Should Send To Parents?
contributed by ClassTag
One of the most important things we’ve learned as an education technology company so far is this: tools don’t work independently.
It’s about informing and empowering teachers and families to make the most of them. In the past year, we’ve seen many teachers who connected with 100% of the parents, gained access to keen classroom volunteers, and organized more events than ever. How did they achieve this level of success?
We’ve analyzed our 100 most engaged classrooms to find out. After much thought and number crunching, we discovered that our top early adopters mastered five elements of parent-teacher partnership. Two-way communication, developing parent-teacher relationships, providing support at school and home, and community building all contribute to the academic success of students.
But… where to begin? While we believe that all of the elements are important, one that teachers can easily act upon is establishing effective communication. We know that teachers and parents want to share experiences and stay connected, but many teachers are at a loss about what kind of messages to share. Over time, many become discouraged and stick to the minimum effort route: a couple of conferences per year and an occasional note.
Our past survey indicated that 40% of teachers rank “a supportive family” as “the number one factor in achieving student success” even ahead of their own teaching skill; this is simply not good enough.
Effective communication with families can be a game-changer for parent involvement, with a positive ripple effect on long-term relationships and community. With these ten key messages, you will have an inventory of ideas at your fingertips that you can start implementing right away and come back to it from time to time.
10 Messages Every Teacher Should Send To Parents
1. Your child has successes that we can share.
In the past, teachers contacting parents would most likely mean a child misbehaving or having learning difficulties. The key to successful communication is sharing frequent positive messages to build trust and, over time, a happy school climate. Holding a weekly reading competition or choosing a ‘Student of the Week’ and sharing their successes with parents creates an atmosphere that makes parents comfortable and willing to partner with you should the problems arise.
2. Your child has ‘lightbulb’ moments you should know about.
When homework assignments and grades are parents’ only insights into academic activities, they miss out on the learning process and have trouble understanding how to best support their child. Teachers can keep parents in the loop about key takeaways and ‘lightbulb moments’ from a class and encourage families to create learning moments outside school, too. This can be done by telling stories, giving examples relating to what they’ve learned at school, critiquing rather than criticizing, and giving children the freedom to fail.
3. Your child went somewhere. Ask them about it.
Sharing a heart-warming story or fun photos from the trip helps parents feel connected to their child’s experiences and school activities. This is especially important for parents whose work or circumstances make it challenging for them to get involved in person.
4. You can help your child learn by…
Most parents would love to support their kids’ learning at home, but expectations and curriculum have gone through many changes since they’ve been students themselves. This is where a teacher can lead the way and share effective learning support strategies.
Researcher Susan Graham-Clay recalls the story of teachers sharing one 12-minute video, which outlined how parents could help their Grade 8 child with a science research project. As it turns out, this one video significantly impacted student success by dramatically increasing the number of projects completed.
5. Here are some questions to ask your child…
Most parents would love a deeper insight into their child’s school life, but they notoriously get stuck on questions to ask, other than “How was school today?” (See “Alternatives To How Was School Today?”)
The teacher can help parents overcome this challenge by recommending open-ended questions. Teaching parents the importance of “wh” questions: why, what, who or where questions will help them motivate their child to go beyond dry facts and think more deeply. Instead of asking: “Did you like your class today?” try asking: “What was your favorite part of your class? What was the most interesting/ the hardest task today?”
6. Here are some alternatives to homework
Recommend activities outside of school that help families bond around the current learning topics: taking their children with them to vote, swapping roles (the parent is the student while the child explains a topic), and discussing a newspaper article together.
7. Thank you.
Want to share your appreciation of parent support? Pinterest is a great source of ideas for tokens of appreciation that can be shared with parents, but acknowledging parents’ efforts does not have to involve gifts, obviously. Thanking particularly involved parents in a class newsletter will boost their confidence and give a sense of achievement while encouraging others to follow suit.
8. Your child is heard in my classroom.
One way to do so is to acknowledge special moments for individual students. There are few things a parent will appreciate more than a teacher taking time to share a glimpse of a child’s development: a witty comment they’ve made, or a creative way they approached a particular problem.
9. I know home life can be busy.
So start by recognizing individual areas for family support. Sharing special moments opens a channel to honest and direct one-to-one communication with a parent, which over time can build trust to discuss other important issues. Recognizing parents’ challenges can turn things around for a troubled family and transform a child’s behavior and performance at school.
10. I’ll work with you. Here’s how.
Educators often have years or decades of experience, while parents dropping off their child to school for the first time really don’t know what to expect. Clarity about why and how specific recommendations empower parents to make informed decisions about how to engage and realize the value and impact of their support. Sometimes even a simple encouragement, saying that by attending school events you show your child you value education goes a long way.
We talked about the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of parent communications, and now we are down to the ‘how.’
First, frequency and consistency are key. We’ve learned that in our most engaged classrooms, teachers and parents make an effort to communicate often, with both sides feeling encouraged and comfortable with initiating the exchange. In this environment, teachers’ recommendations are valued and applied at home, while parents, in turn, are present and contributing at school.
Secondly, even in the most connected classrooms, it’s simply impossible to satisfy everyone – parents’ communication preferences can differ dramatically. Most engaged teachers love that technology can give parents options to customize the frequency and types of updates, empowering them to participate in the communication on their terms.
Lastly, the importance of in-person communication is something one cannot stress enough. Teachers who successfully engage families don’t miss opportunities for spontaneous in-person interactions at drop-off or pick-up, arrange home visits, or organize valuable parent workshops.
What kind of messages made a particular difference in your classroom? Have you experienced a positive impact of frequent sharing?
Vlada Lotkina is the CEO of ClassTag, a simple and powerful communication and scheduling platform that brings research-based practices to help teachers turn parents into partners and improve the quality of family support in education.