Six ways to connect with parents

Parents play a powerful role in education. When they are engaged, they can shape schools and students faster than just about any new idea in education reform. A 2008 study, “Parental Effort, School Resources, and Student Achievement,” found that schools would have to spend $1,000 more per pupil to equal the positive effects that parents have on their children’s learning.
To start a dialogue about the best ways to reach out to and bond with parents, ATPE hosted a parental involvement and outreach webinar with featured speakers Colleen Frerichs, a Round Rock ISD English and social studies teacher, and Rick Tuten, a Lockhart ISD high school environmental science teacher. Here are some of their tips and advice for working with parents.

Absent parents and helicopter parents

Whether you are dealing with absent, underinvolved parents or overly involved “helicopter” parents, it’s important to try to understand their perspective.
  • Parents might be underinvolved because they feel unequipped or intimidated by parent-teacher conferences. “This is especially true for parents who had a less-than-successful school experience,” Frerichs says. “They might carry feelings of insecurity and stress when they come to school.”
  • Overly involved parents might need assurance: “When an effective parent-teacher communication method is established and parental trust gained, children will often settle into daily routines that alleviate parental concerns,” Frerichs says.
As author and educator Allen Mendler, Ph.D., said in a blog post on Edutopia: “An angry parent is better than an absent parent.” With proper communication and motivation, involved parents can become valuable volunteers and advocates for the school. And remember, it’s highly likely that, whatever their involvement style, parents are doing the best they can.

Opening lines of communication with parents

A good relationship starts with good communication.
  • Survey parents to learn their contact preferences, and, if needed, request updated contact information every month.
  • To separate your work and personal life, one webinar participant suggests using Google Voice, a free online phone service. With Google Voice, an educator can call parents from home (when they are more likely to be available) while keeping his or her personal phone number private.
  • Help make technology as accessible to parents as it is to students. Educators can do this by welcoming parents to use their classroom computers. If students will be using a particular app or website, demonstrate how to use it in a flipped-classroom-style video that they then email to parents.
  • Involve parents in their child’s work in an appropriate way. More than 50 percent of parents struggle to help their children with their homework, according to a National Center for Family Literacy survey. The biggest reason is that parents don’t understand the material. Be explicit in explaining how parents can help students academically. If parents are unable to (or shouldn’t) directly assist with their child’s homework, show ways they can provide encouragement and support. For example, share statistics with parents about the academic benefits of reading for pleasure. Or, Frerichs says: “Even if parents can’t solve the math problems, they can steer their child to helpful resources. There are many online tools that help students review concepts, practice problems and view tutorials.”

The power of positive connections

  • Begin and end every communication on a positive note, but also reach out to parents with good news so that your communications don’t always address concerns. Call parents with a brief account, but tell them that you will let their child elaborate on the details. This encourages a conversation between parent and child—strengthening the parent-child relationship—and saves you time while strengthening the parent-teacher relationship.
  • Consider home visits. Many educators visit the homes of impossible-to-reach parents, sending a message that they are serious about the child’s education. Other educators have started partnering with co-teachers or counselors to visit all of their students’ homes. A home visit can help parents feel more relaxed as they meet on their own turf; it can help an educator build trust and understanding; and it shows a willingness to make a connection.