Strategies to build relationships with families and students
I am a parent of a 15 year old high schooler. Not once in 11 years of schooling has a teacher ever sent out a welcome email, or any sort of newsletter. What a lost opportunity! I was a teacher until very recently. If any of my child’s teachers had reached out I would have been the first in line to volunteer my time, provide supplies or support my child with work at home.
Teachers are the busiest professionals on earth, so I am not trying to add anything to a teacher’s plate. Quite to contrary actually. By creating a plan to communicate with parents and stakeholders in students’ lives, you will develop better relationships with the students themselves, improve classroom management and be more effective in class. And when you need to reach out to families, they’ll be there for you.
My plan for engaging parents was actually quite simple:
I collected parent emails when I had parents sign my classroom contract on the first day of school. (This was my first homework assignment). I would then enter all those emails into google contacts and create a group of all parents for the school year. By the end of the first week of school, I would send out a welcome email to all family members.
This email would begin by expressing how excited I was to be working with their child this year. I would include a copy of the syllabus and talk briefly about the units we would cover that year. Then I would wrap up by encouraging parents to email me any time with any questions. I would reiterate that their student’s success was my first priority and together we would make it a great year.
The goal of the welcome email was to open a line of communication and ensure that everyone knew I was an actual human that they could work with in pursuit of their child’s success.
Next, I would send out an email in the middle of each unit telling families what we were studying and when to expect a unit test. I would tell parents that their students should be reviewing with the documents I provided for a unit test on a specific date and told parents they could help by going over their child’s interactive notes with them if they wanted to.
So many parents were so grateful for this information! Many parents wrote me to say things like: “Every time I ask my child what’s going on in school I get a shoulder shrug! Now I can say, do you want me to help you study for your Algebra test next week? And I know how to help! Thank you!!”
I would also let parents know if I was offering any tutoring or extra review sessions before unit tests. It was incredible how many more kids showed up for those sessions after I emailed families.
This email went out before the end of the semester, about two weeks before midterms. I would briefly outline all the units we had covered so far and tell parents how proud I was of all my students. I would share that our midterm would cover all the units from the year so far, and they could help their child study by reviewing past tests and quizzes with them, going through notes or watching videos I had created.
Again, parents frequently wrote to tell me they didn’t even know their child had midterms and thank you so much for the notice.
You see, many parents want to be involved, but they don’t always know how to be. Middle and High Schoolers aren’t always communicative with their folks about every assignment they have due, and parents don’t know what to ask to engage them in conversation about it.
I chose to use my emails to arm parents with enough information so that they could engage with their children about what was going on in my class. Now, instead of a parent saying “how’s math class going?” and getting a vacant stare, a parent could say “how well do you understand the slope formula Ms. Hinchcliffe taught last week? You know it will be on your test next week right? Can I help? She’s offering tutoring tomorrow….”
Even kids mentioned these emails. They would approach me with “Miss, my mom always knows what we’re doing in your class. She asks me questions about the projects we do, and watches your videos with me. It’s kinda cool that we can talk about school like that.”
Don’t get me started on what this did for parent teacher conferences! Parents approached me as if we were old friends. They always said they felt like they already knew me, and they didn’t have too many questions because they felt informed about what was going on in class. Furthermore, if their child wasn’t doing well for some reason, the parent usually knew why. They knew about the tutoring sessions I had offered that their child never showed up for. They knew what I offered in the way of extra help. So coming up with a plan to help the student was very easy.
These emails were always short, sweet, and very positive. Nobody wants to read a 5 paragraph email at the end of a busy day (and I didn’t want to write one!). I would keep it to 2 short paragraphs with bullets for important dates and information. It didn’t take more than 15 minutes to send an email out to all my parents and it paid me back in spades.
I also copied my administration in on these emails so they were always aware of the communication. They loved the idea and knew that I was doing my best to engage all stakeholders for the best interests of my students.
Emails were also sent using the bcc field. We wanted to maintain privacy and parents didn’t need to be able to see all the other parents on the email list.
Enlisting families and stakeholders in the support of our classwork was one of the best things I ever did. It actually saved me time and energy in the long run, and was super easy to implement. Email me if you have questions about it! I’m happy to be a thought partner.
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