Trust between parents and teachers is a principal element in building and maintaining the family–school relationship (Adams & Christenson, 2000). Parents must trust teachers to keep children safe and to help them grow into the best version of themselves. But how do teachers earn a parent’s trust? Besides the institutional recommendations of the local principal and state credentialing office, much of that task is achieved through intentional communication between teachers and parents. Teachers who fail to plan for parent communication are planning to fail.
Greenwood & Hickman (1991) define the elementary school teacher’s interactions with six types of parent involvement: (1) Parent as audience, (2) Parent as volunteer, (3) Parent as paraprofessional, (4) Parent as teacher of own child, (5) Parent as learner, and (6) Parent as decision maker (Greenwood & Hickman, 1991). It is useful to categorize these types so that teachers can prepare for their responsibilities to the distinct roles that parents play. For instance, a teacher that is asking parents to be an audience should be engaging. A teacher that is speaking to parents as decision makers must be clear.
I have included in my portfolio an example of my classroom newsletter. The newsletter follows a format that is designed to inform parents and win their trust and involvement in my program. I begin by getting to the point: This week in word study we are working on the Latin root DICT. Then I explain what word study is and why we do it in class. I include a reminder about spelling lists and suggest a way for parents to help their child study. I finish the letter with an appeal to high purpose: We are helping your child take charge of his own learning. Of course, I include my contact information and implore parents to contact me if they have any questions.
My newsletter informs parents about their child’s homework responsibilities for good reason: When parents are involved in a child’s schooling, there is a significant improvement in school functioning (Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow & Fendrich, 1999). I have also observed that homework due dates and expectations are one of the most common questions parents have for teachers. I will make it a point in my communication plan to post homework expectations online and in print newsletters regularly, and to ask parents if they can find my assignment descriptions.
The best teachers I have met strive to make every interaction with parents positive and authentic. My newsletter uses a positive tone and funny pictures to try and build a connection with my reader. Whether or not I am able to establish relationships with every parent, it is important that I open the door to one. Research suggests that the perceived quality of family–school interaction was a better predictor of trust than was the frequency of contact or demographic variables (Adams & Christenson, 2000). To that end, I will consistently and visibly put effort into contacting parents.
Contacting parents is time-consuming but it is absolutely worth the effort. Not only can it make a difference in your students’ life, it will make your job a whole lot easier.
Adams, K. S., & Christenson, S. L. (2000). Trust and the Family–School Relationship Examination of Parent–Teacher Differences in Elementary and Secondary Grades. Journal of School Psychology, 38(5), 477-497. doi:10.1016/s0022-4405(00)00048-0
Greenwood, G. E., & Hickman, C. W. (1991). Research and practice in parent involvement: implications for teacher education. The Elementary School Journal. 91:3, 279-288.
Izzo, C. V., Weissberg, R. P., Kasprow, W. J. and Fendrich, M. (1999), A Longitudinal Assessment of Teacher Perceptions of Parent Involvement in Children’s Education and School Performance. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27: 817-839. doi:10.1023/A:1022262625984Asdasdas