| Parents became my greatest resource. I openly solicited their active involvement and suggestions on how to better serve their child. I also presented them with ideas and activities they could do at home with their child to enhance their learning process. I later set up a homework/classroom Web site for my community of learners on the Internet so both parents and students could access the homework schedule. I purchased a cellular telephone for my classroom and turned it on during my 90-minute planning block so parents could reach me, if needed, on a daily basis."—Margie Robinson (Viera, Florida)
First-year teacher Katy Goldman (Pine, Arizona) believes that children learn best "when given the opportunity to taste, feel, see, hear, manipulate, discover, sing, and dance their way through learning."
But the parents of her students were clamoring for a more back-to-basics approach. Goldman could have given in, turning her back on strongly held beliefs, or she could have ignored her parents' concerns altogether, promoting bad relations. Instead, she navigated the tougher but more rewarding course. She showed parents how effective her pedagogical strategies could be and ultimately won parents' support, which has proven invaluable.
She began a weekly newsletter to inform parents about learning events in the classroom. She also invited parents into the classroom.
"This created a sense of well-being since they knew I had nothing to hide. Watching the children's excitement and 'aha' looks of accomplishment said it all," Goldman remembers. The long-term benefits of Goldman's efforts became clear over time: parental support for her teaching methods, which yielded a cadre of classroom volunteers and an improved, solidly reinforced learning environment.
Connecting With Parents
Teacher outreach efforts to parents most typically include writing a newsletter or inviting parents into the classroom. Calling parents with good news about a child's progress also strengthens the teacher-parent relationship.
Home visits, done either before or after the school years starts, can also be extremely valuable. These visits can improve significantly the relationship between teachers and parents.
"From the very beginning, I knew the importance of soliciting help from parents," says Julie Gutierrez (Richardson, Texas). "I sent a weekly newsletter home explaining our week's worth of activities, and in it, I gave ideas for working with the children. Conferences and phone calls also served as wonderful opportunities for me to get parents involved. Periodically, I sent papers explaining developmental stages of reading and writing so that parents might gauge their child's progress and look forward to the next step. It's amazing how quickly a child can achieve mastery when the support of a parent is present."
Making Parents Allies and Helpers
Teachers say parents may not make the first move but generally will respond when asked to help at home or play a role in the classroom. Some teachers involved parents in academic activities such as reading and tutoring, while other teachers turned to parents to relieve them of duties that otherwise would get in the way of teaching.
Marie Mallory (Reno, Nevada) writes: "It wasn't until I discovered just how handy parent volunteers can be, that I finally got the paper tidal wave under control. I overcame my time and paper management issue by delegating to my parent helpers. I had them construct the bulletin boards that I would create in my mind, so I could spend that time giving feedback to my students. I have one parent who could give any Kinko's employee a run for their money. She not only is the fastest copier person in the West, but she can run more types of machines in this school than anyone. It's rumored that she can fix them too, but we try to keep some things quiet around here," Mallory writes.
Sometimes parents require new teachers to earn their trust, recalls Mike Benevento (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey). "Parents have a hard time with first-year teachers. They view us as experimenting with their kid. If you show them you really care, then they are supportive."
Parents Make a Difference
Successful first-year teachers say parental involvement in education—at home and in the classroom—is vital to effective learning and discipline.
"Parental support can improve your outcomes immensely," says Melanie Rinaldi (Storrs, Connecticut).
"If parents back a teacher's discipline of a student, and the parent restricts privileges at home, the teacher notices real improvements in the student," says Mercedes Huffman (Washington, DC).
Some first-year teachers are saddened to learn that not all parents can be persuaded to take an active role in supporting their children's education. When this happens, teachers must recognize that they are limited by factors outside their control.
"Naturally, I expected that the parents of my students would be active in helping their child at home. I expected to have full support from each student's parents, for who wouldn't want to help their most precious gift, their child?" writes Pilar Geisse (Torrence, California). "Unfortunately, my expectations were not always realistic. Although they may want to help their child succeed in their educational career, some parents do not always have the time to help their child. In addition to this problem, I was shocked to find that other parents did not seem interested in their child's success (or failure) in school at all."
Firsthand: Going the Extra Step for Parental Involvement
Jennifer Rego-Brown (Portland, Maine) made it a priority to bring parents into the educational process. She sent home mid-quarter progress reports, checklists, and a written evaluation. Her comments noted areas where a student was doing well and showing improvement, and where the child needed to work harder. Her reports also discussed academic standards and behavioral expectations.
"If I could only pass along one important piece of information to first-year teachers it would be, keep the communication lines open between you and your students' families," Rego-Brown writes. "Keep your door open to visitors, volunteers, and parents who just want to drop in and say "Hi!" Send home weekly letters to let families know what is going on in the classroom for that week. Often times children do not tell their families everything that goes on. Call or send home letters as soon as a problem or concern arises with a student. Create family-oriented projects for homework and classroom activities for families. Part of a healthy and successful education comes from the home. If you involve families and the community you will have more resources for your classroom. You will find that an extra set of hands in the classroom or supplies that are sent in from home will help you as much as the children. Families will feel as if they are a part of the classroom and their child's education. Learning will also happen at home, not just in school."
Look to Parents to...
- Show support for learning at home
- Communicate positive feedback about a teacher's influence or performance
- Welcome new teachers
- Volunteer to help in the classroom
- Support fair discipline measures that teachers impose
- Refrain from assuming the worst about first-year teachers
- See that children do their homework
- Offer the workplace for a field trip when appropriate
- Talk to a teacher directly about a problem; and
- Become active partners in education
Tips for Working With Parents
- Contact parents early on and before a problem occurs, particularly when there's good news to report
- Consider writing a weekly newsletter or report on classroom learning and activities
- Invite parents to come into the classroom and assign them tasks if they are willing
- Involve them in reading groups and remedial assistance when possible, being aware that all parents may not read or write English
- Let parents know how they can reinforce classroom learning at home; consider asking them to sign a contract requiring them to make children complete homework and other home learning activities
- Visit families in their homes if possible to see firsthand how well learning is supported there
- Address parents' concerns head on. If you are taking a pedagogical approach that raises questions, work to show parents the benefits of your methods and explain your reasoning to them; and
- Hold a parent meeting the first month of the school year in which you talk about your expectations for student achievement and behavior, leave time for questions, and if you don't know the answer promise to call soon with one.