This is the first part of a three-part series of best practices, written by Michele Narov, Lead Teacher in Newark Public Schools.
Kinvolved’s communication app helps teachers reach parents and other members of students’ support networks to foster relationships. How can teachers make sure these relationships are positive and that the communication app is used to reach full impact?
I have spent the past two years in my classroom trying to answer questions like this one. After surveying my classroom parents, undergoing professional development on this subject, enduring some of my own personal horror stories, and reading as many teacher blog posts as I could find, the tips below represent my definitive list for creating positive and impactful relationships with families and other student supporters.
Tip # 1: Start on a positive note.
During the Teach For America summer institute and teacher training program, one of our first days on the job involved calling parents to make introductions. Sitting with 100 fellow Corps Members in a charter school gymnasium in Philadelphia, I called all of my future students’ parents to introduce myself. Later on, when I had to call them with behavioral and academic updates, it was not the first time they heard from me.
This turned out to be one of the most important parts of my approach to working with parents. It makes such a big difference when relationships are built on positive foundations, rather than just messages when there is a problem.
Tip #2: Communicate early and often.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but really holds true as a golden rule of parent outreach. Make communication a goal, and stick to it. When I surveyed my parents about how often they want to hear from me, the low answer was “twice a month.” Most parents want to hear how their student is doing as often as I can update them, which is why messaging services like Kinvolved’s are such a useful tool for parents and teachers.
I have forty students, so this means systematically organizing my time so I can make those 80 calls or send messages, and so all of my outreach doesn’t get pushed to one stressful week at the end of the month.
Tip #3: Always ask, “Is this a good time to talk?”
During a professional development I attended during my first year of teaching, someone mentioned you should always start a conversation by asking, “Is this a good time to talk?” This is generally a respectful way to start any phone call, and it really stuck with me. When I want to engage in a long phone or text conversation with a parent, I always ask them if it is a good time for them. That one question immediately sets a positive tone for our conversation, and shows that I really value their time.
Sometimes, parents will say it’s not a good time, and we will set another time for us to talk. Whenever this happens I am really glad I didn’t rush into whatever I wanted to discuss.
Tip #4: Set a clear objective for why you’re calling.
I don’t want to communicate in generalities with my parents. If I am reaching out, I try to be as specific as possible right upfront about what we are going to talk about. This sets an upfront tone of purpose for our conversation. Beating around the bush or easing into the topic of the conversation more often than not creates confusion. One of the first things I always say is, “I am calling because…”
Tip #5: Include the Students
I like to use student feedback in my calls with parents whenever possible. I have math conferences with my students where they assess themselves on their performance in class based on their math portfolio and their behavior. When I talk to parents I have a record of the student’s understanding of their progress and I have a written record that their student understands their goals and action steps. This helps with behavior calls too! In our classroom we use “Think Sheets” after students break a classroom rule. These think sheets are really useful tools in communicating with parents because I have on record the student’s account of what happened, which can often be a lot more impactful than my description of their actions.
In my experiences, students shouldn’t be blindsided by phone calls or messages home. Communicating with a student about what he or she is doing well or a negative issue before calling a parent doubles the impact. Recently, one of my students who previously wasn’t performing on tests got the highest score on a math test in the whole third grade! I pulled her aside and called her mother immediately following our conversation. I am seeing the impacts of that phone call in her devoted work ethic even now, months later.
Contributor: Michele Narov was Kinvolved’s Summer Business Development Associate. She was responsible for developing and fostering partnerships with schools, after school programs, and community organizations dedicated to improving student success. Michele is a Teach For America corps member, and serves as a third grade math and science teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, NJ.