Developing a Community: Parents and Teachers Working Together

by Lizabeth A. Fogel

Welcome back, I hope you all had a relaxing winter vacation and are know ready to get back to work. Today I want to talk with you about working, meeting, and involving parents in their children academic lives. There are multiple ways you can involve parents: conferences, written communication, telephone conversations, discussion/workshop groups, field trips, and classroom projects.

A strong link between home and school is one way to promote and predict student success. Parent-teacher conferencing is one approach that helps strength the school-family tie. A conference can function as a way for teachers to provide information to parents about students’ academic and behavioral issues. They can then work together to develop solutions for any problems that may exist. Also, teachers can share general school and classroom information, expectations, and student accomplishments. There are many thinks you can do to prepare for a conference:

1) Invite parents. Call or send a note (initial and reminder the day before). Make sure to invite both parents. If the parents are separated or divorced contact each and make sure meeting together is acceptable. Otherwise set up two separate meetings.

2) Make contact early. Communication is the key to a successful school year. Whether the meeting is to deal with concerns or give praise sooner is better than later.

3) Allow enough time. You should consider a conference to be about 20 to 30 minutes.

4) Be ready for questions. Write up a list of information about the student before the conference. I kept a file on every student. In that file were my academic notes, assessment scores, behavioral notes/contracts, notes I had sent home, note from other teachers, etc….Use those notes to write up important information you want to share.

5) Get papers organized. Have your grade book, sample of student work, attendance records, etc…

6) Greet parents at the door and invite them in.

7) Introduce yourself and get their name right. If you don’t know the parents well introduce yourself. Make sure to check records and know what name the parents go by, they may be different from their child.

8) Have a place set to sit—don’t sit behind your desk. You want to sit in a conference style arrangement at a round table or desks placed together. That way everyone feels equal.

9) Open and close on a positive note. State something positive about the student’s ability or behavior.

10) Have your own agenda. Share with the parents what topics you want to cover during your time together.

11) Be specific in your comments. Give very specific example of what the students had or had not done.

12) Ask parents for the input. Let the parents know that their information about their child and opinions are important.

13) Stress collaboration. Working together will benefit everyone. If you need them to review assignments ask them to do so. Ask them what help you could give. Maybe it is developing a behavior contract to get students to do their work in a timely fashion.

14) Listen to what they have to say. Parents see and know their children in a different light and that insight can be very useful to you as a teacher. If you have a shy student parents can give you clues to their likes and dislikes and you can use these clues to pull the student into conversations and activities.

15) Don’t judge. React in a neutral way because their values may be different than yours.

16) Keep a record of the conference. Copy everything and place it in a file. Make a copy of anything you send home.

Planning is everything, if you are prepared and stay focused everyone will benefit. There are few NO NOs when meeting with parents:

1) Don’t forget the reason you are meeting—the student. Keep the conversation focused.

2) Don’t forget the meeting. Make sure to mark your calendar and don’t be late.

3) If you think that you need someone to be a buffer in the meeting, then ask. It is okay to ask the principal or director to sit in if you think their might be problems. Just make sure you tell the parents beforehand.

4) Don’t be confrontational or defensive. Take everything in stride. Parents get very defensive and protective of their children and if you have negative things to report they may not want to hear them. Try to be pleasant and direct the conversation towards finding solutions to the problem. And always end on a positive note.

Something else I have done when conferencing is to include the student. This gives parents and teachers a chance to sit down with the student and review their strengths and weakness. Every teacher has a slightly different process when using student-led conferences. For example, I have had my students make a list of their strengths and weakness (regarding all aspects of the school day) and pull from their folders what they believed was their best and worst work. The students share their lists and work samples. Then we developed strategies to help improved their weakness and continue to develop their strengths. We use our time to set goals (academic and behavioral), develop behavior plans if necessary, and shine a positive light on what the student was doing well. I found this process very affective in holding students accountable and making them feel that they are a part of their education.

Other then scheduled conferences it is important to invite the parents into the school community. Once a month I would schedule “Game Day”. It lasted for 30 to 60 minutes depending on our time restrictions. I would send a note home to the parents asking for volunteers to bring their favorite board game and teach the students how to play. The dads loved this activity. My students learned how to play scrabble, chess, checkers, etc… This could easily be done in a Hebrew school setting. Set aside 30 minutes once a month for playing Judaic games. Assign different parent volunteers to each game. This gets everyone involved, learning, and loving it.

Also, you should invited parents to come on field trips, to class parties, and any play or other event hosted by the school. Some teachers have the students put together a monthly newsletter with all of the upcoming events.

Lastly, call or send a note when something goes right. Parents are used to getting phone calls from the school only to hear bad news. It is nice once in a while for them to hear something good. You will make their day. Try it even with your most difficult students. You might see a big change in attitude.