Making the most of parent-teacher relationships

There comes a moment for all teachers when we realize both the power and absolute horror of parent-teacher conferences. Jonny is misbehaving, we meet with his mom and the next day he is a delight – no problems ever again. Alternately, Jonny is misbehaving, we meet with his mom and completely understand why he is the way he his – Jonny’s behavior does not change and we are traumatized from the meeting.

This past Friday there was a great blog post at Education Week about how to have more meaningful parent-teacher conferences. The article is geared more towards elementary teachers but is well-worth reading even if you teach secondary students. But let’s be honest – the game changes when you have 130+ students instead of 30. Below are my top 5 tips on meeting with and leveraging parent relationships:

  1. Start off on the right foot: Identify 30 students who you know will either struggle with academic performance or behavior in your class and as soon as you possibly can call home with a positive message. Build your relationship with these parents by continuing to call home or send brief, positive notes home when things are going well. This way, you build up positive capital for when the time comes you need to make a phone call asking for a change in student behavior. Actually, I’ve often found that by building a positive relationship with parents I actually end up never having to make a difficult call because the student is so grateful to me for calling home with good news that they always behave and do their work in my class.
  2. Send home a classroom newsletter: Take a couple of pictures of your students doing something neat (a lab, performance, debate, presentation, etc.) and add to it a caption explaining what when on in class. Include upcoming test and project due dates as well as possible discussion questions to ask students (i.e. “Ask your student about what happened to Japanese-Americans living in the US during World War II”). The newsletter could be as short as 1/2 a page and could even be printed out on the back of weekly grade reports. If you really wanted to save time, assign a student the task of writing the newsletter for extra credit and then rotate the job from month to month.
  3. Physically meet your students’ parents: This should happen beyond just the traditional Back To School Meet the Teacher night. Some good ideas include: home visits, hosting an event at school like a concert or art show, attending sporting events and meeting the parents in the stands and after the game, and loitering around the pick-up area after school to see if you can stick your head in a car window or two and make a strategic connection.
  4. Hold individual parent-student conferences as a grade team: Some of the most transformative, positive meetings I’ve ever been a part of took place with a student, her parent/guardian and all 5 – 8 of the teachers she had in class. “Come on Abby!” you say, “When the heck do you do this?!?!” Great times are during lunch (because the meeting can’t go longer than 25 minutes) and right after school so the parent can take the student home afterwards. Here is one agenda the meeting could follow: every teacher goes around and quickly says something positive about the student, then one teacher sums up the 1 – 3 issues the student needs to address, the student is then given time to reflect on the root causes of these issues, the parent then comments on what she sees as the root causes, then the teachers, parent and student collectively agree on concerte steps everyone will take to ensure there is change. The meeting ends with one teacher agreeing to email and/or print notes from the meeting that summaries the issues, steps each party will take and a time/place when one or two teachers will follow up (either in person or on the phone) with the parent. I love group parent-teacher conferences!!
  5. Bring parents in to the classroom: Either literally as guest presenters, volunteers, observers or through take-home surveys. Surveys can be very helpful ways to gather information about students’ study habits as well as parent’s expectations for your subject.

What else can we do to ensure positive and productive parent-teacher relationships?

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