3 Steps To Sweeten Parent-Teacher Communication
Studies are showing an interesting trend in communication with parents and teachers of preschool age children over the last few years. Parents have greater awareness than ever that “kindergarten readiness” has changed and gotten harder over time. In many places, kindergarten children in the past were asked to merely “walk through the door” in September. Now they are expected to “walk through the door” counting beyond 20, writing their names, knowing all of their colors and letters, and reading at least a few words.
The interesting part of the study is that during this change in expectations, there has either been no change or a reduction in the amount of family activities that help children get ready for school. Families are relying on early childhood programs to prepare children for kindergarten. Why is this? If parents knew ways to help, would they? If early education teachers were offered help from families, would they accept it? I hope the answer is “yes.”
Two-way parent-teacher communication and partnerships can be a tremendous help to children, but where do we begin?
Teacher Communication: Show Parents Your Heart
Teachers do so much classroom and lesson preparation in the beginning of the year, but there is something that many don’t find time to do beyond a generic Back to School meeting: make parents feel warmly welcome and sincerely wanted. Parents are the ultimate experts about their children and a rich resource for your teaching. Reaching out to create a meaningful connection with every parent is time very well spent.
Learn their names as quickly as you can, ask them one on one or perhaps in a survey to tell you all about their child, ask them what you can help them with, what motivation or behavior tips they can share, and learn about their long and short term goals for their child. Ask them their preference for regular communication, and…
Always be sure to tell them how important their child is to you. Parents can never hear it enough, and some teachers never bother say it at all.
Parent Communication: Respect and Engage Teachers Often
Parents, you may not always feel like it, but you have an incredibly influential role in your child’s success in school. The attitude you share in words and deeds teaches your child the value of their education. Please speak respectfully about teachers and don’t question their judgements or policies in front of your child.
Let teachers know what you are thinking throughout the year. Don’t be intimidated. They like to know. When you are unhappy about something, be sure to ask questions right away and straighten out any confusion and hopefully get back on the same page. You may end up fundamentally disagreeing, but do so understanding the reasons behind the decision.
Equally important, is to let teachers know when they have done something good. Don’t assume they already know. Be specific with your feedback either way so that it is helpful and productive. With children, we try to notice more positives than negatives, and I imagine that would be a welcome ratio for a teacher as well.
Read and respond to their newsletters that take so much time to write, return completed forms on time, and help your child learn to respect and meet deadlines. Those are givens. Tell teachers you appreciate the time and thought they give to communicating about your child, no matter what the message.
Your feedback will help teachers make better decisions for your child.
A Simple Solution to Providing At Home Activities:
If you are a teacher thinking you have no time to create at home lessons, I wholeheartedly agree. You really don’t. But…research shows that engaged families (not just parents, by the way) can make a powerful difference in both cognitive and character gains. Meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. Parental involvement is a critical element of high-quality early care and education. Teachers have to find a way.
What to do with the parents who are dying to help out? Some love to help in the classroom, some join the committees and fund raise. The parents who are begging for teacher guidance are the ones who regularly ask how they can help their child at home. Many teachers politely tell them they should read aloud every night, but leave the teaching to school. Being the parent is a big enough job.
Teachers say that to parents for a couple of reasons. It’s not fair for children to have to go home and do a “second shift” of school work at home. Some parents push too hard. It’s also very frustrating for a child if a parent explains things differently than their teacher. Maybe the biggest reason is that it takes a lot of effort to explain to parents exactly how and what to teach at home, so it’s easiest to just ask a parent to relax and be a parent.
It is the wrong response. Don’t cut parents out of the equation. Give them an opportunity to help you and their child in a playful and engaging way.
Here is a simple solution to begin with: Message In a Backpack put together by NAYEC. Print and share copies of these pages with the families in your class. There are enough for one to go home every week of the school year, and many are also in Spanish. They are simple and fun ideas for games and conversations that reinforce everything you teach, but won’t conflict with specific lessons.
It is enrichment. Families will learn what a developmentally appropriate activity looks like, it’s no extra work or expense for teachers, and children will benefit in many ways. Not only will they learn great things, they will have quality interaction with their families, hopefully less screen time, and understand that their family and teacher truly support each other.
Find A Way To Reach Every Parent
There will be parents who are not comfortable participating in school. They may not be well educated themselves. They may be shy or new to the neighborhood, or they may not speak English. They may be overwhelmed with work, single parenting, or they may not have transportation or childcare to get to meetings.
It doesn’t matter. Bend to where they need you just like you do for your students. Help connect them to friends who can translate or drive, communicate with them electronically or by phone, ensure that the school finds a liaison for translating conversations and notes, point them toward resources for parent education.
There cannot be an excuse for not communicating regularly and well with any parent. To make the need for including everyone perfectly clear, read The Economics of Inequality by James J. Heckman. He creates an interesting discussion about the many values of early education for all.
Research Says Our Teamwork Does Make a Difference
When children’s progress can be tied to classroom activities and home activities, development and learning are strongly reinforced and further family involvement is inspired. Discussing changes in a child’s readiness skills can open a dialogue about the child’s strengths and any areas of potential concern for families or teachers. Then families and teachers can work in a true partnership to ensure that children continue to receive appropriate instruction and related experiences to further their development.
Show me a teacher that would not welcome an army of parental support. Then show me a parent who doesn’t hope for a teacher who will love and bend over backwards for their child. If a teacher and parent both felt supported and respected, the outcome would be a child who felt thankful to be learning in the middle of such a strong and mutually supportive and healthy parent-teacher partnership.