At a recent brainstorming session with new educators, a list was developed highlighting the most pressing and nerve-racking obstacles that a new teacher faces. The list contains a few unique and humorous answers:
- dealing with the aches and pains resulting from standing all day
-talking to friends and family as if they were a student
and my favorite: remembering to eat and use the bathroom
These are all legitimate concerns, but our time is better spent helping new teachers with methodological and pedagogical issues.
"Well," a participant timidly squeaked, "I'm afraid of parents, like calling them and talking to them."
A unanimous "Ohhhhh yeah me too!" resounded from the group.
As a development project, we decided that was our area of focus- the dreaded parent contact.
As a group they developed a protocol for addressing parents, which I will not share with you. What I will share with you, that I did not share with them (YET!) is an easy way to not only get parents on your side, but communicate with them weekly and encourage positive interactions.
This works for all parents, even the most ornery ones:)
It only takes five minutes a week and virtually alleviates the stress caused by parent contact.
Its called the (Put your content here) Update Email. For example: Earth Science Update Email.
This article discusses the strengths and benefits of a weekly parent email in a list of observations.
The weekly email has a simple format: two sentences describing what their child is currently working through, one sentence reminding them that grades are available for them to review, and one sentence encouraging them to contact you with any questions or concerns. You also give them the homework for the week and a list of conversation starters (discussed in a bit). Below is an example of my most recent update email.
We are currently working through a series of activities that demonstrate the causes of the seasons. Our next laboratory investigates the duration and angle of isolation.
New Q2 grades are posted. Topic 3 group and individual assessments are included.
Please contact me with questions or concerns!
HW due WED 11/25/15
1. Sun's Path take home quiz
2. Flash Cards: coriolis effect, foucault pendulum, star trail, rotation, revolution, duration of insolation, period of revolution, period of rotation
Conversation starters- ask them to:
-give the number of daylight hours on 12/21,3/21,6/21,9/21 (9,12,15,12)
-describe the tilt of the Earth related to the four seasons (Summer-toward, Winter- away, Fall/Spring- parallel)
You want parents on your side. What better way to do that then to keep them in the loop. Everyone feels foolish when they are uninformed.
An example may help:
You need to tell a parent you wrote their kid up. This isn't something easy for the teacher to say and for the parent to swallow. To break the ice and remind the parent of the positive relationship between the two of you already established, you begin by referencing the update emails. They are reminded that you are on their side and trying to help the child.
"Hello Mrs. Smith, this is Mr. R from the high school, do you have a minute to talk about Zachary?"
"Hello Mr. R, yes I do, what is he up to now?"
"First I want to make sure you're still receiving the update emails, have they been helpful?"
"Oh yes! Extremely! I appreciate the effort and I like knowing what Zachary is doing in class!"
"That's great to hear! I'm glad you find them useful. My reason for contacting you is because I unfortunately had to submit a discipline referral today regarding Zachary..."
It truly works and the tough conversation is much less confrontational.
At parent/teacher meetings, this is an often experienced exchange
"Good morning, I'm Mr. R you daughter's science teacher."
"Oh Mr. R, the one who sends the weekly updates, yes of course, I love them by the way"
Most importantly, this is said with other teachers and administrators present- you look like a rock star.
You start the often uncomfortable parent/teacher conference with the parent on your side.
3. The students know that an email is sent home once a week...
... so they are more likely to do what they need to. The "please complete this so I don't have to speak to your parents" isn't an empty threat.
I often hear between friends "Dude, just do the homework, he emails our parents once a week!"
Further, give the parent some responsibility and include the homework assignments in the email. Rather than a parent saying: "did you do your science homework?" to their child, they can say "did you make the four drawings Mr. R is asking you to do for science homework?"
Watch your homework completion rate increase once you send update emails on a regular basis.
4. The weekly emails decrease the frequency of phone calls
When initiating the call, an instructor can prepare. When receiving a call from a parent, the instructor is often left scrambling.
The weekly emails allow the parent to simply hit "reply" to inquire about their child. An email response can be drafted, checked and sent. You maintain control over the parent/teacher/child relationship when you have time to prepare for interactions.
... get your students talking about your content at home.
A conversation starter is a bit of content given to the parents in the form of a question regarding a concept recently taught in class. You also give them the answer.
For example (taken directly from a weekly update email)
Conversation starters-ask them to:
-describe the relationship between luminosity and star size (as size increases, luminosity increases)
-list the characteristics found on the HR Diagram (color, temp, luminosity, size)
Nightly, the following exchange happens at the dinner table:
Parent "Steven, how was school today?"
Parent "Kimberly, what did you do in school today?"
Readers with high school aged students are nodding their heads.
The conversation starters give parents dinner table ammo... rather than the bland and expected "how was your school day?" a parent can say "I hear your looking at planetary motion in school, what shape is the Earth's revolution?"
Parents LOVE this because it encourages parent/child connection. I love conversation starters because the students hear the concept an additional time outside of my classroom.
6. "I don't want to be the limiting factor in your involvement with your child's education."
Some parents monitor the progress of their child with falcon like sensitivity. Others let their child bump and roll through school hopefully finding their way.
The bottom line is this: I want to give my parent a choice. The weekly emails keep my parents informed whether they want to be up-front and center with their child's education or lurking in the background.
I will not be the reason a parent is not involved.
They appreciate that and recognize the effort.
How do you communicate with the parents of your students? Connect with The Pragmatic TV Teacher and share your ideas!
Thanks for reading!