Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Write Home

            During your teacher training, what did you learn about the importance of teacher-parent communication?  You may have learned that teachers need to establish strong communication channels with parents so they can help their children succeed in school.  But did you know that the first words a parent should hear from you about their child are positive ones?  Let’s explore how this works.

            You’re planning to send a letter home introducing yourself to your students and perhaps give them an assignment prior to the first day of school.  That’s one kind of communication:  it’s about you, the classroom, and an assignment.  Next, you may meet a few students and parents as they wander through the building as you prepare your classroom.  That’s verbal communication: informal and a social introduction.  But there is another communication that truly sends home the message that your classroom is a place where substantive learning takes place and you value your individual students: the letter home on the first day of school.
            Margo, a middle school teacher whom I admire, has a great system for handling this.   At the end of the first day of school, she sends home a group email that summarizes the students’ first day of school.  Throughout the message are references to each child (by first name) and the positive contributions they made.  Parents love receiving this because they discover what their child learned and what Margo recognized about their child, even if it’s two or three words’ worth.

            Margo’s observations about each child avoid trite comments like “Daneisha was a great line leader” and are more along the lines of “Daneisha, Yvonne and James wrote a terrific poem together about the water cycle.” Notice how much specific information is relayed? Students collaborated, they learned science concepts right away, and they wrote poetry to creatively show what they understood.  That means Margo used cooperative learning, science content, the arts, and incorporated assessment right from the first day.

            This kind of effort requires advance planning and is worth every minute.  Where does Margo find the email addresses?  She consults the school records and makes phone calls to find missing ones.  What does she do if parents do not use email?  She sends home hard copies of her letter.  How does she find time to do this on the first day?  She does what she can in advance, then schedules time and holds it sacred—that’s how important this home-school communication is to her.  What if the parents don’t communicate in English? She sends it in the home language.  What does she do if a child acts out all day?  There is something concrete and positive to say about every child, Margo believes, and she focuses on that.
            When you take the time to reach out to parents with upbeat, specific news about their child right away, you lay the foundation for a good home/school relationship.  First, parents get solid news about what you and the students did.  Second, they feel happy and relieved to know that you made positive observations about their child.  Third, by sending an email, you establish a communication channel with them.  However, the most important result is that you ensure that their child begins the school year with immediate, affirmative recognition that goes directly to their parents.  This gives the parents information that they can build on to enhance their child’s learning at home, too.

            Everyone benefits when you cultivate good home-school communication.  By following Margo’s example, you cultivate the right atmosphere for young minds to know that parents and teacher plan to work together.  With that approach, everyone wins.

Kathleen M. Nollet, Ph.D.

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