Many STEMscopes employees come from a teaching background. In this 2-part blog, we draw on their past experiences to share perspectives and advice on a variety of parent-teacher partnering issues.
Collaborating on Students’ Behavior Issues
Parents would often ask how their child was behaving in class. If I brought up an issue, many immediately talked about punishing the child at home rather than working on the issue with the teacher. It requires a lot of open dialogue with the parent about not necessarily punishing the child but rather understanding the root cause of the behavior:
- Are they frustrated because they don’t have one of their parents at home or in their life?
- Have they had breakfast, or have they not eaten so they have no energy?
- Do they feel like they can go to their parent for help at home or do they feel like they’ll be scolded for not listening to their teacher?
Everything doesn’t always have to be on just the teacher and parent. You have counselors, lead teachers, principals, and district-level administrators. You have other people you can pull in, so you and the parent don’t have to stand on an island by yourselves.
Something that’s important in any relationship is remaining curious. E.g., one of the things I did for my students was learn their behavior patterns early in the school year: What were their habits? What did they normally do?
When I saw those patterns change, it was a great help to have established a relationship early on with the parents. That way I could say, “I’ve observed this is what normally happens, and lately this other thing has happened. Can you tell me if there is anything different going on?” It’s about remaining curious and not being accusatory.
Facilitating Communication with Parents
If possible, set assigned hours on a particular day that a parent can stop by and talk. Also, make the most of the school’s open house.
Usually parent-teacher conferences are scheduled for after-work hours when the parent is likely to be tired. They may also be nervous and braced for bad news. So, if you share a list of 10 things their child needs to change, they may be overwhelmed. When that happens, most people shut down and do nothing. So, keep it to three or four actionable things.
Also, teachers can avoid giving too much negative information by using “positive-negative sandwiches.” First, say what the student is doing well. Next, talk about the areas that need improvement. Then remind them where the student is doing great.
Set up expectations for parents. Emphasize that you’re both on the same side and talk about the part the teacher plays and the part the parent plays (e.g., coming to Science Night).
I found that sharing the schedule of lessons for the year or semester with parents was helpful. I also liked to have a plan for helping students stay abreast of lessons if they had to be out of school. That helped reassure parents.
Communicate with parents regularly so they’re never surprised about how their children are performing. If your district uses an online grading portal, tell them how often you update the grades. That way, they don’t worry if they don’t see things updated right away after a test.
Also make sure parents are aware of the date of the school’s open house ahead of time, preferably at the beginning of the year. Also let them know the protocol for scheduling a meeting if they need to meet sooner.
I taught at Title I campuses, and my biggest challenge was getting the parents to be responsive. So, I made sure to reach out early in the school year with good news, and I’d talk about behavior as well as the curriculum. I would challenge myself to call each parent with an update so they knew who I was. That way, I was developing rapport and trust with the parents, and I could lean on them if I needed more help. The STEMscopes parent letters were a great way of letting parents know who I was. Our teaching staff also used mass texts to update parents about what was going on in the classroom.
On our school web page, I included a link to the STEMscopes curriculum (it was specific to our campus and not districtwide) so parents could see what we were using in the classroom. That was a perfect way to make sure they knew what was going on.
Building Parent-Teacher Relationships
You definitely need to make that parent connection early. So, when there’s a parent-teacher night, make a note of all the parents that came by. Then reach out to the parents that didn’t and schedule a meeting with them. You could say, “I would still like to meet you, have some time with you, or at least talk on the phone if you have a busy schedule.”
There can be many reasons why parents don’t show up to parent-teacher conferences. The parents of my students worked all the time, so many times they couldn’t come. But I would look for a better way for us to connect to make sure they knew that we were partners. And nowadays, teachers have the option of connecting virtually with parents.
Working with "Helicopter Parenting"
When I was a teacher, I found it was a great help to set up norms and boundaries early on (such as the hours during which parents could make contact, the channels that they could use, and when they could expect a response). If feasible, let parents know they can log into the district’s system to find out about grades if that’s the only information they need. Also make them aware of the kinds of issues you can’t address. E.g. a science teacher can’t report on a student’s performance in physical education.
Also, remember that your administrator is your backup, so have a candid conversation with them about a challenging parent (e.g., one who wants their child to go to an Ivy League university when their grades or scores indicate that it isn’t a feasible expectation).