Communication with the parents of students is one of the most neglected aspects of successful teaching, especially at the secondary level. The reason for this neglect is obvious and borne of necessity: Teachers often do not have the time to make the necessary phone calls to parents. However, if you want to ensure parental support and increase good behavior, find the time to make that phone call.
Get on the Phone
Elementary and high school teachers should make an effort to talk to their students' parents at least once each grading period. Phone calls are a quick and easy method of keeping the lines of communication open. Elementary school teachers should find the time to call and talk to each parent above and beyond the once or twice a year parent-teacher conference. You have fewer phone calls to make than a secondary school teacher but you will probably find that your phone calls will last longer, so you should set aside ample time for each call.
However, even a quick hello can often help you find a new way to connect with students or learn something important about what's going on in their lives. The importance of communication was demonstrated by a phone call with a third grader's parent who revealed that the student had recently had three deaths in his family. This student had seemed more subdued of late and this helped the teacher understand the reason for his behavioral changes.
Because communication can be a lot of work in an already overloaded schedule, a secondary school teacher might consider dividing students into categories of need: high, medium, and low. High-need students are those who are having a very difficult time or who are having major behavioral problems in class. Medium-need students are those who are barely getting by. Low-need students are doing well.
You should definitely contact the parents of all your high-need students and set goals for yourself with the other two groups. For example, you might try to reach half the parents of your medium-need students and maybe a quarter of the parents in the low-need group. Parents will respond favorably to your calls, and you will see an improvement in the quality of behavior and work.
Secondary school teachers have to reach many more parents. One method for making phone calls a little more manageable is to divide the total number of students you teach by the number of weeks in a grading period. If you have to call 150 students in a six-week grading period, then you would need to call 25 parents each week to reach them all.
Provide Written Communication
Elementary school teachers will find that daily written communication with parents can be a huge boost to classroom behavior. If your students take home a daily agenda, then you can simply write a brief note to parents when their child is misbehaving. For example, if you have a student who has a habit of talking while you are talking, write this in her planner and require the parents to sign that they have read your note.
It is important not to overuse this type of note to parents. Do not send home a note every time you have to write a student's name on the board, for example. Instead, use it when you feel that parental involvement could make a difference with student behavior.
Nothing can replace sitting down one-on-one and talking to the parents of your students. A conference is a good opportunity to share with parents your methods for lessons and grading as well as discussing the quality of their child's work. However, parent-teacher conferences can be very stressful. Some teachers find it difficult to be questioned by parents. Further, if parents are not responsive to your observations, they can become confrontational.
To prevent a negative reaction, it is very important that you come to parent-teacher conferences prepared. If you are meeting over a behavioral issue, it is often helpful if you call and talk to the parent on the phone before the conference so you have a basis for mutual discussion once the conference starts. You should be honest about your concerns and observations, but you should also be tactful in your delivery. Some parents will probably react with denial because it is easier than acceptance.
Another effective technique is to arrive at a parent-teacher conference with a plan in mind to help a struggling student. It is important that you and the student's parents work toward the same goals, because if you are clashing, the student will definitely pick that up and capitalize on it.