Welcome to “This or That,” a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.
One of the things about teaching that has the potential to burn us out the quickest is confrontation with parents; however, educators can be proactive in their interaction and communication with parents in order to build relationships and rapport that will result in a partnership that benefits the students involved. Here are a few tips for preventing many of those unnecessary and stressful angry phone calls, emails, and meetings.
Survey parents. At the beginning of the year, I like to survey parents regarding their beliefs about education, their expectations for the class, and their own educational experiences. I ask questions about access to technology, dedicated reading and study spaces at home, contact preference, and more. By beginning the year with a parent survey, parents understand that I am interested in and care about their experiences and preferences.
Send home letters. I think it’s important to send home a letter on the first day of school (or soon thereafter). In the letter, I introduce myself and give a brief background of my teaching educational experiences. With this letter, I also send a copy of my rules and procedures (including late work and grading policies, which can often be bones of contention). Because many parents are busy, I keep these letter brief, and I also include a link to a short video of myself saying the same information in a visual and auditory format. Some parents prefer to watch the video as opposed to reading the letter. Whenever possible, teachers should differentiate their communication with parents.
Keep an updated website. Many schools are using Google Classroom, but that’s not the only option. Weebly, Haiku, and other platforms exist which allow for open and frequent communication. Even if you can’t post daily homework assignments, you can still link the documents students need and provide quick links to class videos, your e-mail address, and your phone number so that both students and guardians can contact you when necessary. I also use the Remind 101 app to send parents information about upcoming assignments, tests, and projects.
Explain any nontraditional methods clearly. Because of the differences in education (many of them related to technology – one-to-one, Google Classroom, flipped classroom, etcetera), parents often feel ostracized and out of the loop when it comes to their students’ educational experiences. I make an effort to contact parents either verbally (in person or video) or via written communication before using any nontraditional instructional methods. Parents need to know the what, when, why, and how surrounding new learning methods so that they can support teachers in an informed manner. It’s a lot easier for a parent to be upset about the F their child earned on a research paper if they don’t know that you made frequent revision suggestions through Google Docs (which their child may have ignored) and that you had all of the instructional videos available for review on your class website. Tell them about these interventions and the differentiation options you are providing, and it will help to quell the storm.
Make positive phone calls and emails. Set a goal for yourself to make X amount of positive phone calls or to send that number of emails each week. Even if it’s only one, parents talk. You will be developing a reputation for caring about students and encouraging them rather than only contacting home when there’s an issue.
Encourage parents to get involved. Whether it’s giving students the opportunity to involve their parents in the classroom, in an assignment, or even just asking for their feedback on a recent activity or lesson, parents will usually be more willing to partner with teachers if they know their opinion matters.
Pretend the children are yours. This was a tough one for me before I actually had children of my own. Sometimes the disrespect we feel from students takes us out of the proper frame of mind, and we don’t respond to conflicts and issues in the way we should. Because I have three of my own children now, whenever an issue arises (cheating, plagiarizing, behavior issues, late work, etcetera), I always try to imagine the student in question is my own child. How would I want a teacher in my position to respond to my children? Obviously, I’d want them to respond in love. It can be hard to remember to do this, but adopting this mind frame is a game-changer in terms of partnering with parents.
Do your assignments before you assign them to students. Are your assignments realistic? It’s one thing to have high expectations and a rigorous class, but have you actually tried to do the homework and projects you are assigning? Sometimes we dream up these wonderful ideas and assign them without thinking through the amount of time they will realistically take students to complete. Teachers have to find that balance between challenging students and being respectful of the time they are spending on work for our class at home. Parents see their children putting in effort and time on homework, studying, and projects; unfortunately, we usually don’t get that perspective, so if a parent or guardian is upset about a student’s grade on an assignment, it might be because they are privy to information we are not.
Having said all of this, even when we are diligent about responding to parents and students in respectful loving ways, and even when we do our best to communicate and open our doors, hearts, and minds to feedback, sometimes issues still arise. No matter who you are or how many degrees you have, parent conflict will never be nonexistent. And we shouldn’t think less of our abilities because of them. Being proactive is the best approach, but it’s not foolproof. Hop over to the Language Arts Classroom to get inspiration and ideas for how to react to parent issues once they arise. If “this” doesn’t work, try “that.”