Communicating with parents
To communicate successfully with parents, be caring, professional, open, and organized.
Imagine that you have a job to do. No one really tells you what is expected of you, but since you never hear anything else, you think you are doing a pretty good job. You are just doing what you think is best. Then one day, out of the blue, you get a call from a total stranger who tells you that you have been doing a bad job all along. This probably makes you a feel defensive and maybe a little angry.
This is how a parent can feel when she gets a call in October from a teacher she has never met telling her that her child is behaving poorly or has not turned in any homework since the beginning of the year. "Who does this teacher think he is? If he really cared about my child, he would have called me a lot sooner!" While not all parents respond so strongly, it is never a good idea to speak to a student’s parent or guardian for the first time in order to tell them about a problem.
Be caring, professional and open
You have nothing to hide from parents. You want what is best for their children; they want what is best for their children. If you communicate this to them in a sincere way, most of the time they will trust your judgement and be very forgiving about just about everything else.
After this, they need to feel confident that you can do the job well. This means that if they ask you questions about your subject matter and your teaching methods you should be able to answer them confidently and professionally. Being a reflective practitioner is vital to your ability to do this. You need to be clear in your own mind about why you are teaching, what you are teaching and how you think it is best to do that. You need to be clear on these questions not just generally, but about every lesson you teach. These are questions you can sort out through reflective writing exercises, like those you will have to do as part of your Performance Based Licensure process, as well as by talking to colleagues and reading professional literature.
If you are clear in your own mind about these basic things, you should not be afraid to tell parents about them and invite them into your classroom to see them in action. The only parents who will take time to come view a lesson are those who are truly committed to helping their children succeed in school. Do not let visitors to your classroom intimidate you. This is an opportunity to show off what your students can do.
While it is true that a teacher always needs to be organized, it is especially important to consider organization in dealing with parents. First of all, parents are only worried about their children. Each parent’s child is the most important child to him or her. You should not expect parents to sit while you try to remember what class their child is in or dig up papers to show his current academic progress. This should be organized at all times so that when a parent asks, you can go right to it without giving the impression that you are not very interested in her child.
Secondly, parents most often do not work in public schools and are not used to the friendly chaos that is an inevitable part of working there. You should not expect them to have the same patience with disorganization that your colleagues might have.
Make the effort!
Admittedly, it is not always easy to communicate with parents. Teachers are busy and can be responsible for more than a hundred students in extreme cases. Parents often work hours that are incompatible with the teacher’s schedule. But if you can make the extra effort, you will have fewer problems in your classroom to start with, and when you do, parents will be much more willing to help you solve them. But the most important reason to stay in touch with parents is that children are more committed to learning if they feel that their teachers and their parents are on the same page. This is true in middle and high school as much as in elementary school, no matter how "grown" students might think they are.