Involving Parents

Designing a Plan to Involve the Parent/Guardian in Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

Creating a collaborative relationship with families is another component of creating an effective learning community. It means learning about families to understand the family's culture and the relationships between parents and the child. This relationship is especially important when students and teachers are dealing with challenging behavior. Looking at students in the context of family, community, and society helps teachers understand that student-family alliances combine into one big package. By supporting families, teachers are also supporting children's well-being and development. Developing a family-centered classroom requires teachers to understand the following ideas:

  • The family is central to the development of a child. The family is the first and the main teacher.
  • Each family has its own competencies, resources, strengths, and preoccupations.
  • The race, culture, religion, language, socioeconomic status and other factors of the family must be respected.
  • Parents should be accepted on their own terms, without judgment.
  • Programs and services that support the family in meeting the needs identified by the family should provide effective support.
  • Teachers, students and families working together create a stronger alliance for solving problems and increasing educational support (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 2007).

With the diverse make-up of today's families and communities, developing a positive, productive relationship with parents involves a variety of approaches. Some parents become involved in school if they feel that they can help their child succeed. Other parents are involved no matter what the teacher does. Still other parents have neither the time nor the interest and will never be involved. Teachers must clearly communicate that parents' involvement can truly help students and that the teacher's invitation to be involved is sincere.

Although it is important to get to know parents at the beginning of the school year, it can take time and effort on the part of the teacher. One way to begin the year is to develop and send home a welcome letter prior to the beginning of school. The letter might ask questions about the interests of the child, additional siblings, languages spoken in the home, parent interests, work schedules, phone numbers, eating habits, allergies, and any other information that could help the teacher better understand the child. In the letter, the teachers may want to tell students and families about themselves, their interests, university, hobbies and other information the teacher wishes to include. This friendly exchange can provide a good base for building a positive relationship.

As the school year begins, the teacher should take every opportunity to get to know the parents through polite greetings and conversations. Use a checklist to keep track of conversations, phone calls, and other contacts from the first days of the school year.

If contact with parents has not been established the first few weeks of school, the teacher should make special attempts to contact the parent by note, phone call, or talking to the parents as they pick up children after school.

Making home visits is another way to meet parents and develop a relationship. Many parents welcome teachers into their homes, but others may not (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 2007). Teachers may want to take another teacher, a teaching assistant, or the parent liaison along on the home visit as a matter of safety. Check school policy or talk to the administrator about making home visits before scheduling them.

If the teacher knows that the language spoken in the home is not English, he or she may want to invite someone who speaks the home language to assist in the home visit. In addition, the teacher could learn the appropriate greeting in the home language as a matter of courtesy.

Each culture has its own communication style. European Americans engage in face-to-face communication with direct eye contact while African American, Asian Pacific, Latino, and Native American cultures consider direct eye contact aggressive, impolite, or disrespectful. In the Mediterranean culture, people display emotions openly and spontaneously, but in the Chinese and Japanese culture, emotional restraint is polite. European Americans laugh or smile when they are happy and many Asian cultures smile when they are embarrassed, confused, or even sad. European Americans like to keep an arm's length away in communication, and Latino, Arabic, and African American cultures like to stand close in communication. To understand communication and culture in the home is to understand the student. Understanding the student helps to create a learning environment that fosters learning and cooperation in the classroom (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 2007).

Communicating the classroom expectations to parents and making them aware of positive and negative behaviors can be a powerful tool in creating an effective classroom management plan. Parents want their children to do well in school. By making parents aware of the classroom plan before problems occur, positive relationships can be developed. Children want to please their parents before pleasing the teacher so the relationships between parents and the school are critical. In addition to the parent letter before school begins, teachers should continue to communicate with parents through phone calls, conferences, orientation packets, and notes. When problems occur, the teacher and the parents should work together to support the consequences established in the classroom plan. Teachers should encourage parents to develop a system of consequences and positive rewards that support the classroom management plan. Situations will occur that require a creative approach to problem solving, and occasionally, school administrators will need to be involved. Having an open line of communication with parents makes the process easier for parents and the teacher and secures further cooperation in the future (Marzano et al., 2005).

Although the primary role of the teacher is to work with children, many teachers find that developing a positive relationship with parents is a rewarding and important role. When parents feel good about the teacher and the school, children are more likely to receive encouragement and reinforcement for positive school behavior. Second, parents who are legally responsible should be kept informed about the student's behavior. Third, parents and guardians are valuable resources such as tutors, volunteers, assistants to the teacher, and experts on special topics.

Even though there are benefits to working with parents, the process can be time-consuming and energy draining. Time spent in communicating with parents means that other responsibilities must be completed at home. Because the teaching profession has not been viewed with the same respect as law or medicine, parents may feel that because they have been students, they are knowledgeable about what their child should have to do to be successful and freely evaluate the teacher's performance. Some parents feel that they pay the salaries of teachers and should have some input into how the teacher manages discipline and teaching. These factors may increase the likelihood that teachers may think twice before involving parents (Jones & Jones, 2004).

Teachers can develop attitudes and skills to make contacts with parents more enjoyable and productive. Remembering the values of parent involvement can make this a priority. When parents are involved and communicate with the school and the classroom, students tend to show higher achievement, convey a more positive attitude toward school, stay in school longer, and demonstrate more appropriate behavior.

Conducting a parent conference is an additional skill that an effective teacher uses in communicating with parents. Having a plan in mind can also relieve some of the apprehension that teachers have in scheduling a conference.

Conducting a Parent/Guardian Conference

Before the conference:

  • Set up the classroom for the conference by choosing a location for the conference. A round table reflects a spirit of working together. Select a location near a door if the teacher has not met with the parents or if there is an indication that problems may occur. Being near the door allows the teacher more visibility should problems occur. Some teachers alert a "buddy" teacher to the conference and ask her to walk by to provide intervention and support as necessary.
  • Have water, juice, coffee, soft drinks and other refreshments available for parents.
  • Look at the classroom and clear clutter and trash to present an organized learning environment.
  • Prepare a plan for the conference. Create a conference sheet. List one or two positive behaviors or skills to discuss with parents to start the conference on a positive note. List one or two problems that are to be addressed. Choose the problems that have the most impact on the classroom. Caution: Avoid listing seven or eight problems because students will have difficulty addressing more than one or two at a time.
  • Gather documentation. Make copies of what has been done to date, document previous conferences with the students and parents, include problems in other classrooms as appropriate, document the student's academic performance with work samples, and review the documentation prior to the conference.
  • Decide whether the student will be involved in the conference or when the student will be involved.
  • If there are concerns about the conference, invite the principal, school counselor, or another teacher to be involved in the conference.

At the conference:

  • Welcome the parents, shake hands, indicate where parents should sit, offer refreshments, provide a note pad and pen for parents, and provide a copy of the conference form for the parents. Remember courtesy.
  • Express appreciation to the parents for arranging their schedule to meet with you. Use the parents' time wisely by being organized and prepared.
  • Begin with positive comments about the student.
  • Remember that parents may be intimidated because of previous experiences in school and may show anger or defensive behavior.
  • Parents of students whose behavior or academic problems are of concern may be especially sensitive to being blamed for the problem.
  • Approach the conference as team members who have a common goal: to solve the problem based on the needs of the student.
  • Find ways to work together to solve the problem. The teacher should have possible solutions prepared prior to the conference, but keep open the possibilities for solving the problem in a different way.
  • Respect the parent's knowledge and insights of the student.
  • Work to reach a solution that is acceptable to the parent and the teacher.
  • Document solutions to address the concerns discussed in the conference.
  • The teacher should offer ideas for his role in supporting the plan.
  • Parents decide how to support the solutions to the problem.
  • Set up a timeline for how and when the teacher and the parents will communicate regarding progress in solving the problem.
  • Decide how the plan will be communicated to the student. Will the teacher explain how the problem will be addressed or will the parents?
  • Make a copy of the conference form for the parents.
  • Sign the form and ask parents to sign also. If parents refuse to sign the form, do not make it an issue. Simply indicate on your copy that parents chose not to sign the form.

After parents leave:

  • Reflect on the conference and make any additional notes that are critical to attitudes and solutions observed in the conference.
  • Make a copy of your documentation and the conference form and give it to the principal or appropriate school administrator.
  • Schedule on the teacher's calendar how and when parents will be contacted regarding progress as described in the conference.
  • In the classroom, follow through with the decisions of the parent-teacher conference and document progress towards a solution.

What happens if the conference is not successful and parents become belligerent or abusive or threaten the teacher? While this seldom happens, it is an especially good idea for new teachers to be prepared.

  • Send another teacher for the principal or other school administrator.
  • Ask parents to reschedule the conference with the principal or school administrator. Call the administrator and set up a time.
  • If all the ideas listed above fail, ask the parents to leave and let the school administrator take the next step.
  • If the parents will not leave the classroom, the teacher should leave the classroom and secure the help of the school administrator.




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