One month down educators and though we’re headed for a ton of interruptions, we still have to keep swimming as best as we can.
This week, we focus on tips for increasing parent involvement in our students' educational progress. Tricky topic? Yeah, it kinda is, because parents need to strike a balance between being a ‘guide on the side’ of their child’s educational journey, without turning into helicopter moms and dads. It’s about GRADUALLY ceding control to their child, while still monitoring their educational progress and intervening when/ if necessary. Admittedly, that’s not an easy job.
You will notice that I typed ‘gradually’ in all caps and there’s a reason for that. You see, we currently have a trend that goes like this: “Monitor the child like a hawk, up until he/she passes SEA for his first choice secondary school, and then parents lay off, thinking that their child will ‘just know’ how to manage him/herself from there.” I can state this, because in my 19 years of teaching at the secondary school level, I’ve actually had parents tell me this at Form 1 teacher-parent conferences:
“I doh feel like I should have to be telling her what she hadda do. She big now. She in high school.”
Do these comments sound familiar to you as an educator? Well they’re verbatim of chats I’ve had with parents/guardians.
So how do we, as educators, do our part to ensure we include parents as a stakeholder in their child’s educational progress?
1. Establish contact: Before you do though, sit with yourself and work out what you’re comfortable with and parameters for this contact. Remember, this is a professional relationship so set it up like one. When you get a new class, set up a mailing list in Outlook, Google…your choice. Ensure the email address you provide is a professional one (no [email protected]) and communicate with parents on a consistent basis.
And don’t just communicate the negative, i.e., when homework isn’t done or the child misbehaves in class. Make the time to give positive feedback, even if it’s a one-liner: “Jeremiah has really settled down after our last meeting.” / “Chloë helped her classmate who fell down while running, to get to the nurse. This was very kind of her.” Deposits are important, so don’t just withdraw from a student’s progress account.
2. Communicate via WhatsApp: Now this can be a tricky one, so once again, you have to sit with yourself and establish your boundaries: e.g. no messages after a certain time, no text language but proper form on address, voicenote or not…take the time to go through the nitty gritty of all the details. You can even decide if you just want to make it a WhatsApp group for dissemination of important notices and announcements, from your end. Ensure you have at least 1 adult representing each child in the class. You can add more later, if you feel like it.
For some teachers, a boundary may be keeping this parent contact on a different phone altogether. AND THAT IS PERFECTLY FINE. You are not required to have parents messaging/ calling you on your personal phone. You are also under no obligation to respond to messages after YOUR established sign-off time. Please don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other teachers who may respond/ chat with parents at any given time of day. That is THEIR prerogative, it doesn’t have to be yours.
One warning I would issue? Be careful about becoming a member of a parent chat group. From my experience, this has become a free-for-all to bash teachers, parents put you in the middle of their disagreements-it can get ugly, fast. So if asked, politely decline and point them in the direction of your own chat, stating that you will communicate if/ when necessary via this medium. Again, this is a choice to which you are entitled. No one can force you to join the chat. And if they add you? Politely state your preference to not be a part of the group and ‘exit the chat’.
3. Create a virtual noticeboard: So there are many choices, but I really like Padlet, because it’s so easy to use and share. The free version allows you 3 padlets- these are like virtual notice boards where you can post announcements, reminders and even links to websites/ videos that can help parents reinforce what you taught your students in class. Many times, parents complain that they ‘never did French’ so they don’t know how to help their child who’s struggling, this is a great way to share resources so both parents and students can learn!
And since we’re all psyched and excited after the QR code session that Dev did, guess what? Padlet has a QR code option that allows you to share the padlet instantly! Choose the “Get QR code” option from the Share menu (the little arrow), a huge QR code will open. Don’t panic, right click on the image and choose “ Create QR code for this image”. A smaller QR code will appear, and you have the option to copy and share, or download. This code can easily be put into your WhatsApp group or a group email.
4. Have parents sign assignments/ assessments: Sometimes reverting to ‘old school’ ways of doing things, really works. I have a colleague who swears by it and I have seen, in her personal case, that it yields results. She had parents sign their child’s end of term paper and being a teacher who also communicates via email, she gave parents the ‘heads up’ that the paper was coming home to be signed.
Yes, there’s follow-up involved and it may take time out of your class, but it helps students to develop accountability for their actions/ inactions. I tried it recently with a homework assignment I gave- students had to write a paragraph about themselves and four of them copied from one another…(why students think we wouldn’t notice when they copy an entire paragraph from a friend will always stump me.) I requested that their parents sign the copied homework and include a phone number (so I could verify if they actually signed and saw the work.) One parent actually wrote me a note in her son’s book to express her disappointment and thank me for alerting me to the ‘situation’.
So you see? The proof is in the pudding- some ‘old school’ ways work. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, even if we’re in the tech age.
5. Meet with parents at least once a term: Whether it’s in person or online (yes the threat of COVID is real, so many will opt for the distance of a virtual meeting), touching base with parents remains crucial. They have to put a face to a name, we all do. We live in the 21st Century, yes, but human beings are all about CONNECTION.
One way we make that connection is by communicating with each other, face-to-face, or screen-to-screen. So even if you choose to have a virtual meeting, make sure to turn your camera on, set a professional background, and dress the part. Look like you would, if your students’ parents/ guardians were physically in front of you.
We know it can be challenging, because you have your own life and family, but the rewards of setting a parent meeting, at a time when parents can likely attend (after work hours), are tangible. Parents get to ‘see’ who you are, communicate via verbal and non-verbal cues and Mr. Paul or Ms. Alvarez isn't just a name that their child throws around at home. Because believe me, your name is being heard in the household. Sometimes the quietest child in your class is the one who talks about you the most at home.
During the course of the week, we’ll be sharing some more tips on how to get parents/ guardians more involved in their child’s/ ward’s educational progress. But I want to leave you with a thought to consider:
Sometimes it’s the work educators put in outside of the classroom that yields the richest rewards and effects the greatest change; part of that work involves connecting with students’ parents/ guardians, and treating them as equal partners and stakeholders.
So, are you ready to connect?