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A Teacher's Guide to Communicating with Parents

Small thumb ben stern 1401861611 1422653864 1422676501 1428741646 1428750060 Ben Stern

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“I’m already getting parent phone calls and it’s August! Can technology help me manage this through the year?”  

Parents can be difficult. Every teacher has his or her stories. Parents love their children and want to ensure that they’re getting the most out of school. Although parents and teachers have the same priorities, they often don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the best way to support students. Regular communication, transparency, and honesty help to establish trust between teacher and parent. There are also a few tools and strategies that make this communication and transparency a bit easier.

1) Make every day Open House (without the nerve-wracking demos)

As they say in marketing, “Go to where the people are.” Much to my students’ chagrin, their parents are as active on Facebook as they are. What parents don’t want to have their meme-posting interrupted by pictures and videos of their beloved kids? Let them know what their kid is thinking and doing all day by cross-posting updates, images, student work, and class videos on various social media platforms. Maintain a class Facebook page, and have a different student contribute to it each week. Post videos of presentations to Twitter and photos of them working collaboratively on Instagram. Whatever you do, find ways to satisfy parents’ interest in their kids by using the services they’re already using.  Of course, review your school’s Acceptable Use Policy and Privacy Policy before doing so, and monitor the privacy settings carefully. Many schools issue waivers at the beginning of the year for this very purpose.

2) Communicate frequently and purposefully

No matter how “open” your classroom is to the parents, you’ll still have to communicate with them directly from time to time. Much of that communication can serve to remind students and their parents about upcoming assignments and tests. Remind101 is a free service that allows teachers to easily and safely send text messages to students and their parents. Parents appreciate the updates, which serve to supplement the communication you might already offer via your LMS. You could even take it one step further and add your Twitter code to your call list, so that your texts appear on your Twitter feed. Consider linking a class Twitter account to a Facebook page. If your students and their parents “like” your page, follow your Twitter account, and check their cell phones, they won’t be able to escape your updates. The dog isn’t eating that homework!

Sometimes, however, teachers need to have a conversation with parents that goes a bit deeper than upcoming due dates. For these calls, it is helpful to remember that the positive phone call is as important as the negative one.  I have a colleague who sends positive e-mails to her students who impress her or are just pleasant human beings, and she always CC’s the parents. Building this positive context goes a long way if problems arise later on.

To keep track of these interactions as well as the student behavior that prompts them, I highly recommend Dash4Teachers. There really isn’t anything quite like it out there. It requires a little bit of setup initially; hopefully your schools’ administrative assistants can help you put together a spreadsheet of your students’ info to upload to the website. Once uploaded, you download the app on your iPhone and begin tracking student behavior. (Unfortunately, it is only available on the iPhone as of now. To their credit, the Dash4Teachers team tells us that they want to perfect one platform at a time.)

You can tap smiles or frowns for each day, jot down notes like “asked great questions!” or “was terribly disruptive,” and then tap “Call best contact.” You then select options like “Call completed” or “Left a message.” My favorite feature is the ability to sort by least recent calls, most frequent calls, and positive or negative. The more students we have, the more possible it is for one to “slip through the cracks.” Using this intuitive and simple app goes a long way to ensuring we’re helping all of our students.

What’s more, new teacher evaluations are putting a major emphasis on engagement with parents and the community. Dash4Teachers makes this engagement quantifiable. In fact, shared and exportable call logs are features that the Dash4Teachers team says are coming soon. With adequate preparation for these calls and awareness of the ever-present possibility of being misunderstood, teachers and administrators together can satisfy an important and newly-emphasized aspect of their job.

3) Bring in the experts!

The most fun parents to interact with are those who take a genuine interest in your class beyond the performance of their kid. If you open the door for these sort of interactions, you’ll be surprised by how many parents step in. If you’re talking about the Constitution, ask one of the parents who is a lawyer to come in and speak. I have one colleague who brings parents in for students’ class presentations and encourages parents to question and even assess the presenters. Google Hangouts or Skype chats can bring parents into the room without requiring they take an afternoon off work. Sometimes I’ll ask students to discuss an article I have them read for homework with their parents. If you encourage parents to become part of the learning process, you will ensure a positive relationship focused on what’s most important --their kids!

--Jennie Dougherty contributed to this report.

Ben Stern writes the "Because You Asked" column for EdSurge. He is also the Technology Integrationist for a middle school in New York City. Earlier in his career, he revamped his curriculum using computers and the Internet, replacing textbooks with scholarly sources and leveraging the connectivity afforded by the Internet to contextualize content. Since then, Ben has found a passion in the evolution of education through technology and works to help teachers enhance their curriculum wherever possible. You can follow him on Twitter at @EdTechBSt

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