As a teacher, your main goal at the beginning of the school year is to get to know our students and start building relationships with them. From the first day of my first year teaching kindergarten, I knew how easily I'd connect with my students (my own mind tends to think and act like an energetic, free-spirited five-year-old).
But their parents were a different story.
There's nothing more nerve-racking than your first encounter with a parent. But open parent-teacher communication in the classroom defines the learning process, so how can we effectively communicate with moms and dads while juggling hundreds of tasks each year?
I have an open-door policy for parent volunteers in my classroom. They're always allowed to volunteer and help out during "center time," which is strictly devoted to providing mathematics and reading activities that reinforce the concepts they're in the middle of learning. Center time is every Monday through Thursday from 1:15 to 2:15.
As a first-year teacher, though, I often felt like I had to put on a show for the parents to prove I was skilled and qualified—especially being male and teaching kindergarten, which is admittedly uncommon. For me, it seemed like more of a show for the parents at first, rather than actually taking the time to enjoy my students and focus on their development. But it's normal to experience some anxiety about parent-teacher relationships in the classroom, as sometimes it does indeed feel like you're on display. However, as parents are more frequently involved in the classroom, I found that they are typically more supportive and feel better positioned to reinforce these concepts at home based on how they see them play out in my classroom.
Having parents in the classroom often makes teachers nervous, but children are better prepared to succeed at higher rates when their parents are involved in their education, as Harvard Graduate School of Education explains. In addition to providing a great opportunity for them to see what's happening in school, inviting parents to help out in the classroom builds positive rapport between you all as the year progresses. It's also a great way to speak openly about the kids and grow more comfortable with one another about important development issues.
Phone Calls Home
I once had a student with a lot of difficulties from preschool. I called the parents during the first week of school, and his mom immediately reacted: "Oh no, what has my son done now?" But I reassured her that I was calling to let her know what a great start to school her son had. She was delighted, and this opened a door of positive communication for the rest of the year. A simple phone call home sets a positive tone early on, fosters open communication between the teacher and parent, and helps build a community of support for students.
When the phone rings and parents see it's the school calling, they usually think their child has done something wrong. It's critical, however, to let families know how much their children are improving. Make it a goal to call each student's parents within the first two weeks of school. Identify a specific area of praise to pass on.
Parent Communication Notebooks
One of my colleagues introduced me to parent communication notebooks, wherein every year, we create take-home binders for each of our students. Parents know that I check these each day and will respond to any questions or concerns. It's a great way to ensure a positive home-to-school connection, and vice versa. In fact, many parents have remarked at how much they enjoy having this communication notebook.
Sending out weekly newsletters is an easy, effective way to inform parents about important dates or events and communicate about what's happening in the classroom. I'd also recommended the website Smore—a platform that lets you create fun, creative newsletters to send to your parents via email to phones or tablets.
If you haven't heard of the Remind App, you need to check it out. Subscribers can sign up as a teacher, student, or parent and choose to receive messages by text, email, or in the app, providing another way to communicate with students and parents about classroom activities. You can even chat directly with parents. It's safe and there's no exchange of personal information between anyone.
Above all, when your students enter the classroom with their parents on the first day of school, keep your head up, smile, and introduce yourself. Be yourself. It's okay to be nervous. As long as you build authentic relationships throughout the year and create ongoing, clear lines of parent-teacher communication, you'll foster positive relationships and a school year you'll enjoy more every semester.