Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

Now that my summer class is over, I should be able to get back in my blogging routine.  On our very last night of class, we had a really interesting discussion. As many of those in class were teachers, the topic of helicopter parents came up.  Some were expressing frustration about dealing with parents that do not hold their kids accountable and don't allow them to experience failure. I think a lot of teachers have experienced situations like the cartoon below where you feel attacked by a parent because a student got a less than perfect grade.

Source: Pinterest

After the class conversation continued a bit, my professor stopped the conversation and made some really great points. She got us to stop and think about what we know about parents and our education system today.

  • Parents really are powerless in many ways over their student's public education.  They do not have control over what is taught, the testing, etc.  
  • As an education system, we have taught parents that numbers matter.  Grades, test scores, and class rankings are what determine college entrance most of the time.  Parents just know those numbers matter in the long run, so seeing bad scores scares them.
  • Parents love their children and do not want to see them fail.  Sometimes you have to find a way to remind them that failure is part of the learning process. 
It is very easy to get frustrated with parents and feel defensive when angry parents confront you, but as professionals we have to step back and find the best way to communicate with parents. 

Here are some suggestions we discussed that night about dealing with parents, which are perfect to keep in mind as we get ready for back to school.

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

  1. Always remember that everyone wants what is best for the student and remind parents of that.
  2. Whenever possible, involve the student in the conversation.  If parents are concerned about a grade or missing assignment, have the student explain their thinking to both you and the parent. Sometimes the parents have not really taken the time to listen to the child.
  3. If parents are upset over one grade, put things in perspective by explaining that it is one grade of many in a lifetime of grades. 
  4. Try to be empathetic and express understanding for their point of view, while still holding to your classroom policies.
  5. Have clearly outlined policies for late work, missing work, absences, etc.  Make sure those policies are clear to students and parents. 
  6. Try to give students rubrics when possible and clear directions.
  7. When creating assignments, ask yourself what the real purpose and value of the assignment is. This seems simple, but sometimes we get so busy trying to cover all the material that we include more busy work than we mean to. If something feels meaningless and unimportant, students are less likely to do it.
  8. Sometimes it is important to remind parents that often grades reflect a student's effort and not their ability or even understanding.  Often students have learned the concepts and material, but have chosen not to show everything they learned.  As a teacher, you can't see in the student's head.  You can only see what they show you.
  9. Turn the conversation from the past to the future.  Instead of focusing on one grade, try to work together to discover the real root of why the student made a bad grade and make a plan to improve it in the future.
  10. Help students and parents both understand that failure is part of the learning process.  It is okay to fail and make mistakes. You just have to keep trying.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with parents?

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