The last United States Census reported that young adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in the care of someone other than their parents. Couple this with adolescents' growing need for independence, and it is easy to see how many parents lose touch with their kids as they traverse the middle grades. Teachers, coaches, and mentors fill in the information gaps that gradually appear as kids begin to disappear from their parents' view.
Don't wait until Back to School Night to make contact with your new group of parents. Get off to a good start by following these four tips for productive parent-teacher relationships:
Make contact early. Parents expect to see a pile of papers come home during the opening days of a new school year. Surprise them with an e-mail newsletter or a "Meet the Teacher" homepage online with a short video introduction. Websites like Weebly.com, Wordpress.com, and Edmodo.com offer free website tools that make communicating easy for all levels of teacher tech users. Notice who responds with an e-mail reply or comment. Make note of your tech savvy parents and their potential for assisting the class with technology-related projects.
Focus on the positive. A fellow teacher shared that each day he made phone calls to five students' parents. Each call was a short (2–3 minutes) acknowledgment of a student's effort. Parents don't expect a call home from school unless there's a problem that needs attention. Surprise your parents with a call that focuses on a positive point from their child's day. Coming prepared for class, participating, and exhibiting an enthusiastic attitude are positive behaviors parents want to know about. Making positive calls builds a solid foundation for your parent-teacher relationship. When you do need to address a problem, your request for parent assistance will be met with a positive response rather than resistance.
Ask for input. Before Back to School Night arrives, send out a survey, by e-mail or as a handout, asking parents to rate their level of concern about common middle grades issues. Bullying, homework, test taking, Facebook, cell phones, and friendships are among the top concerns expressed by many middle grades parents. Use the survey results in your parent presentation. Parents want to know that you value their input. Discussing concerns at the start of the year helps to minimize problems later.
Post progress. Continue to build your relationships by alerting parents when their students engage in exciting activities and ask parents to do the same. Parents often feel out of the loop, due primarily to their child's unwillingness to communicate. Share highlights from the classroom via video post to your website or with a special newsletter alert. Encourage parents to send an e-mail or call when their child earns recognition for their efforts at home or in an after-school activity. The more you know about your students, the stronger your relationship becomes with their parents. Productive parent-teacher relationships result in higher student achievement.
Your initial connection with parents lays the foundation for a year-long relationship. Given that children spend a significant number of their waking hours at school, teachers play an essential role in a child's life, as do coaches and mentors. With your support and encouragement, both parents and kids will be better able to thrive in the months ahead.
Joe Bruzzese is the author of
A Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years; a nationally recognized parent education speaker; and founder of Sprigeo.com, an online bully reporting system; and founder of MiddleSchoolYears.com, an online resource for middle school parents.
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education