By Rabiah Harris March 4th, 2014 4:30 PM
I sat at my first parent teacher conferences nine years ago, terrified. What would the parents say? What would the parents ask? Would I have answers right away or would I need to look them up? I seriously didn’t know what to expect. However, now that my very first conference day (and many others) have come and gone, I know that the terror I initially felt was unnecessary.
One thing I failed to realize when I first started teaching, but was quickly reminded of by my mother (a teacher of 40+ years), was that parents want the same thing that I want. They want their children to learn and be successful. At the core of even my hardest to reach parents, they want their child to be successful. This includes achieving at their highest level of success and preparing for a lifetime of learning. As long as that remains my goal as a teacher, parents and I will always have a common ground.
In particular, I can think of three female students, and their families, who I built strong relationships with over the years. Each one of them had a different trajectory in my class, but they, like many others, persevered through the difficulties of chemistry and came out triumphant. I couldn’t have been more proud to be at their high school graduation 1-2 years later. My connection with families starts off simply and can be traced back to these three tips:
1. Be proactive about updates on class procedures, important assignments, and progress.
In the past, I’ve done homework calendars, a blog, weekly grade sheets, and a class website that alerts families to important events and upcoming assignments in school and in class. I know that on the very first parent teacher conference day I had, my reason for having fewer parents was because they already knew how their student was progressing and if it was subpar, we had already discussed ways to improve. Proactive communication also helps parents know that you are just as interested in keeping them abreast as they are about staying abreast. Figure out what works best for the families you serve and use that as your primary communication tool.
2. Check in with parents to find out if they have particular concerns about your class or other classes that you can help facilitate.
This worked the best when my school was on an advisory system for students and parent communication. The advisor was the parent’s “touch-point” for school and always a person they knew they could go to for questions or concerns. Teaching teams must have each other’s backs, but also integral to know what’s going on in each others classes to help alert parents of big upcoming assignments across the board.
3. Remind parents that your goal is the same as theirs and ask for their expertise on their child.
When concerns come up or achievement starts to fall, these conversations can be tricky to navigate. Grounding the conversation in the “mission” so to speak is very important because you always want to make sure that the parent remembers the goal is the same, student learning and achievement for every student, every day. When you ground the conversation in the goal and ask for tips on how to help keep that goal working towards mastery, parents feel more at ease to also receive your feedback.
I’ve kept in touch with those three students I mentioned earlier. Victoria is in graduate school in New Jersey and plans to start a bilingual early childcare center. Charlotte is graduating from college this year and has plans to make a difference with youth so she can help someone as I helped her. Lastly, but definitely not least, Roxana has already completed higher education and is an esthetician and makeup artist. Being a teacher is a way to make a difference, but it is also a way to become a partner with families. Be ready to expect that when these partnerships happen, they will also make a difference in you!
Want to continue the conversation? Connect with Rabiah on Twitter at @dcSTEMspark.
Rabiah Harris teaches science at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.