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How to Be a Parent-Friendly Teacher [episode 29]

parent-friendly-teacher

Click below to listen to how to be a parent-friendly teacher:

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Morning Message: 

[00:56] What do you like to use for parent communication?

When we were both in the classroom, we were all over the paper newsletters for communication! However, times have definitely changed and as we transitioned to motherhood and having friends with school-aged children, we do think about this question differently. 

Our community is all about the digital forms of communication! Those range from Seesaw, Bloomz, Class Dojo, Class Tag, and Google Voice. There are a lot of really great features on each of these digital platforms, so make sure to check them out.

Here’s an overview of episode 29:

It has been said that parents are your biggest allies as a teacher, which is so true. Having parents on your side during the school year helps make your year run smoothly when it comes to behavior issues, volunteer opportunities, and so much more. So we want to make sure that we’re a  parent-friendly teacher, but what does that even mean and what does that look like? In today’s episode, we’re going to break it down and discuss how to be a parent-friendly teacher.

We will certainly admit that while we were in the classroom, we either thought we were being a parent-friendly teacher, or this concept wasn’t really in the forefront of our minds. Let’s first identify what we even mean by this idea. 

To us, a parent-friendly teacher is a teacher who makes a parent feel welcome in the classroom, and invites parents to be a collaborative part of their students’ education team. This means they feel like they can come talk to you about concerns or questions, while being approachable and welcoming. 

You might be thinking, Yes, that sounds like me! Parents know they can come talk with me. But a common misconception is that we assume that parents know this, but that might not always be the case. Instead, we need to proactively show this to our parents.

In order to achieve the goal of being a parent-friendly teacher, we’ve come up with 6 tips that will help you accomplish that goal. Those tips are:

  1. Communicate frequently
  2. Always start with the positive
  3. Never share a problem without a plan
  4. Treat parents with respect
  5. Invite parents to be involved
  6. Respect parent and family time

Throughout the episode, we break down each tip, explaining what each tip means, how to achieve it, and real-life examples. 

It’s important to remember that parents and teachers are on the same team and have one goal in mind: academic and emotional success for their child. Don’t forget that they’re your ally and are here to work with you. After listening to these tips, you will be more effective as a parent-friendly teacher, all working towards the same goal.

In this episode on how to be a parent-friendly teacher, we discuss:

  • The definition of a parent-friendly teacher
  • Tips on how to effectively be a parent-friendly teacher
  • Why starting with positive communication is always beneficial 
  • Being mindful of parent projects and how a students’ time is spent in the evenings
  • A reminder that you and the parent are on the same team with the same goal in mind

This week’s teacher approved tip:

[19:40] Try wristband reminders.

We all know the struggle of sending home reminders with students or making sure that parents are up-to-date on the latest announcement from your classroom or school. An easy way to get information home that the students won’t lose, is using paper wristband reminders. 

Remember those paper wristbands you get when you go to concerts or an event? Write your reminder on that, tape it around your students’ wrist, and they go home with the announcement! Now, we don’t recommend doing this for every announcement, but maybe the most important announcements. Plus, not only does this remind the parents, but is a helpful reminder for your students, too!

What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

[21:02] Heidi is giving extra credit to Bite Toothpaste Bits

[21:44] Emily is giving extra credit to The Pigeon Will Ride the Rollercoaster by Mo Willems

Resources:

If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love these too:

Read the transcript for episode 29, How to Be a Parent-Friendly Teacher:

Hey, there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re sharing our best tips for being a parent friendly teacher. And we’re sharing a teacher approved tip for reminders. We start our episodes with a morning message, just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. Today’s morning message is what do you like to use for parent communication? And I’ve been in the teaching game long enough that I basically just did paper newsletters. That’s how I did it too. But now I’ve experienced it from the parent side. So I have more opinions now than I used to about this. My youngest has been using Seesaw for the school year. And I really love getting a notification during the day that shows me what she’s working on. I just think that’s really fun. That’s so cool that you can see kind of midday what’s happening. And a few of our listeners mentioned that they love Seesaw as well. Amy and Shannon both mentioned the app Bloomz. I’m not familiar with this one. Well, I did a quick search about it. And I saw it has some really awesome features. There’s two way translation for communication, which would be so useful. Yeah, that’s awesome. And it has classroom management tools and volunteer coordination and lots of other tools. It really sounds like an amazing app. Britney mentioned that the Class Dojo app also has translation services. And I’m not sure if that’s one way or two way you’ll have to check on that. She said her whole school uses Class Dojo, so they can communicate with parents in Spanish. Melissa suggested the App Class Tag, because you can use it to upload pictures and write announcements and also send messages. Sandi said she uses Google Voice because it makes it easy to communicate. But she did caution that it can blur the lines a little bit because it is basically giving families a phone number. But I do like that using a Google Voice number would allow you to communicate really easily with parents, but not give them your personal number. And you can set up a schedule for when you want the calls to ring or not. And I know it does some other cool things too. So that might be worth looking into. We’d love to hear your response to this and other questions over in our teacher approved Facebook group or on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow. And that is with a two.

So I have to admit whether or not I was a parent friendly teacher is an idea that never occurred to me until I was on the parent side of this parent teacher relationship. I thought I was a parent friendly teacher and I think I did okay overall. But there are things that I would definitely do different now. It wasn’t until my friends started having school aged kids that I realized that I’ve kind of been operating under the assumption that school should be a family’s priority. But seeing what it took to cope as a parent maybe recognize that actually family should be a family’s priority.

So Emily, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what we mean when we say a parent friendly teacher? Sure, I would love to. So what we mean by a parent friendly teacher is a teacher who makes a parent feel welcome in the classroom, and invites parents to be a collaborative part of their students education team. It means being a teacher that parents know they can talk to if they have concerns or questions. So just being approachable and welcoming. And don’t we all want parents to see us that way, definitely, we probably assume that the parents do see us that way. Because I think most teachers are open to that relationship with them. Right? And we just assume that they know that. But it turns out, the parents might not necessarily know that unless we proactively show it to them.

So we have a few specific suggestions that you can use to help become a more parent friendly teacher. The first one is communicate frequently. A parent friendly teacher communicates often with parents. Many teachers send a weekly newsletter or email that previews what they will be doing during the week or a summary of what they did do that week. And I think that’s a really good place to start. I love when my kids teachers do this. And we know how busy teachers are. So sending a weekly newsletter or email does involve effort, but it is effort that pays off definitely. But our communication with parents can and should go farther than that. It’s important to communicate with parents throughout the year with individual feedback about their student; you should make a plan for how you can create manageable opportunities for frequent, low key communication with parents. Set a goal for how frequently you want to touch base with each parent and then make a plan for how you can make that happen. And that doesn’t mean you need to touch base with every single family every week, just as often as works for you. Because we really know teachers are so busy. Yes, I liked to keep a log for parent communication. So I could keep track of how often I spoke to each student’s family. And then I can easily see if there was a parent I hadn’t touched base with in a while. And we also both of us used homework folders in our classroom, and they had blank lined paper at the back specifically for parent home communication. So parents could write a note in there for me to see like Eliza will be getting checked out early today. And so I would make a point during my morning routines to flip through each folder and check for notes and quickly respond. And then I had a goal to scribble and a quick note about a couple of students each day, if possible, though, it definitely didn’t happen every day. And I know this may sound overwhelming, but I found as long as I checked it frequently, it never got to be too much to keep up with. And as long as I could do a few every day, then I was getting to everybody every couple of weeks with some little note home to their parents just letting them know, Hey, I see you I see your kid. While we’re on this topic, I feel like I need to confess that parent communication is one of the things that like I was so enthusiastic about in the fall. And then it like you could graph this like over as the year went on, like it’s deeply declined. Have good intentions, but you know how it goes. But I do feel like communicating early in the year, especially with positive news, earned me some goodwill with parents that continued even in those months when my intentions didn’t match the reality of my communication.

Yes, and that’s a good point it, it brings us to our second guideline, which was always start with the positive. I think of parent home communication, kind of like a relationship bank, so to speak. So I try to be mindful of having lots of positive home communication right from the start. So that if a challenge arises, we aren’t starting out our communications with a negative balance. I feel like parents are more willing to hear about concerns or problems from a teacher that they already like and trust, which only makes sense because I know I am way more willing to hear feedback from someone who I feel has my best interests at heart, and isn’t just being critical for being critical sake. Yes. So with that in mind, I put in a lot of effort at the start of the year to give multiple positive interactions with my students families as soon as possible, building up that relationship bank account balance early.

And we have one more communication related guideline. Heidi, why don’t you tell us about that one. The third guideline is never share a problem without a plan. I truly stand by this. Parents, for the most part aren’t educators, and they’re just doing the best they can. So if you come to them looking for a solution, they likely don’t have the experience to know what to do to fix a problem at school. Not only that, but realistically what can the parents do to help with the problem when they’re not the ones in the classroom? Exactly. When my son was in kindergarten, his teacher started the year with almost daily contact about how my son was having trouble sitting still, and transitioning between activities. And none of that surprised me about him. I knew that about him. But I just wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do with that information. If it was as simple as telling my son to behave a certain way, then he would be perfectly well behaved all the time. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The teacher was the one with him when he was having these challenges. So the communication would have been much more effective if she had come to me with a plan for how she wanted to help him work through these, let’s be honest, developmentally appropriate challenges he was having. And then I could have supported her plan from home. Yeah, as nice as it would be to just put a problem back on the parents. That is unfortunately not how teaching works. Sadly, it would have been way more effective. If your son’s teacher had said, you know, I love your kid. I love how inquisitive and insightful he is. But we’re having a little trouble during transitions. He’s having a hard time moving on if he doesn’t feel finished, and I wasn’t in the classroom, but I know your sense. So 100% what the problem was, you know, so the teacher could have done something like I’m going to make sure to give him a five minute warning and then a one minute warning before it’s time to transition to a new activity. And we will see if that helps. Have you found anything that works at home? And then it can be like a collaborative process instead of just pointing out a kid’s problem, and wondering why the parents feel defensive. And also, let’s just note, sometimes there’s challenges like this that you’re experiencing at school that the parents don’t necessarily even need to know about. Like, if it’s not rising to the level of a serious behavior issue, then maybe the parents don’t need to hear about just the small normal management problems you might be having.

And that brings us to the fourth guideline, which is to treat parents with respect. And I know you’re hearing that like, duh, of course. But treating a parent with respect is more than just being polite and friendly to them. One major way we can show parents respect is by treating them like adults, give them adult chairs to sit on when they come in your classroom, instead of having kindergarten sized chairs for them to purge on I cannot tell you how much that makes me not feel like an adult. And also talk to them like they’re an adult, treat them like you are all on the same team. That’s a big one. And they think it’s important to think about what your body language conveys when you’re meeting with parents. One thing that helped me is to try and see myself as a host inviting people to my home. And as the host, it’s my job to make sure everyone is at ease. Because as the teachers, right, we’re so comfortable in our classroom spaces, it’s easy to forget that parents won’t feel that same sense of familiarity. And for some parents who may have had bad school experiences in the past, just being in your classroom could cause a lot of anxiety. So I tried to do the things a generous host would do. I greeted them warmly, I made sure they had a comfortable place to sit, no kid chairs, and chairs for adults. And then I’d always start with positive details before moving to anything more sensitive. And then I tried to invite them to be part of supporting their child and moving forward. Yes, parents support is so important.

And our fifth guideline is to invite parents to be involved. We like to make a plan before school even starts for ways that parents can volunteer in the classroom. But I would never have a sign up for general volunteers without letting them know what they’re signing up for. And I’ve been on the other side of this where I go sign up to help in my students class. And I’m thinking I have no idea what they’re going to ask me to do, and I get there. And I do not like how that feels. I think that goes back to the guideline of showing parents respect. So I try to always be upfront about what the volunteer opportunities will involve. And I tried to vary the types of parent helper jobs available so that a parent who really wants to work with the kids has an option for that. While there are jobs like making copies as well for a parent who prefers a more behind the scenes task, but wants to come in and be helpful and be involved. I also look for less demanding volunteer opportunities too. So parents can help on a field trip or class party, or come help only once in a while instead of every week. My son’s teacher last year, let parents sign up to come be the surprise reader throughout the year, which was a really low stakes way for parents to come participate. Not all parents can or want to volunteer in the classroom though, we don’t want parents who aren’t able to volunteer every week to feel like they aren’t part of the classroom community. One way you can still involve them is by asking parents to help with tasks that could be done at home like cutting lamination or assembling book orders. Or if your school allows it, you can have parents sign up to send in supplies, maybe you could have a tissue warden. And when your stash of Kleenex boxes runs low, you just shoot them a little email. Or you have someone who signs up to send in two bottles of soda for your class parties during the year. They know exactly what’s expected and when. Parents are often eager to help and they appreciate when you can find creative ways for them to contribute to their child’s class. I know it’s easy sometimes to feel like well, that’s not really my job. Like I’m here to help the kids. But this is also a way to help the kids by having their parents feel like they’re part of the team that is helping their kids. Yeah. And there have been times I could volunteer in my kids classes every week. And I really felt so much more connected to the teacher and what’s happening in their class when I could be there every week. But there have been years where that hasn’t been possible for me. And so I appreciate the teachers who still offer chances for me to be involved if I want to be when I can. And as teachers, we tend to assume that the world revolves around our classrooms, because kind of our lives but that isn’t the full picture.

So our sixth and final guideline is to respect parent and family time. So often I think teachers see a fun idea and they run with it before considering that parents are going to be less excited about providing a t shirt to decorate or putting together a shoebox filmstrip for a book report. Both of those are examples from friends of mine. Yeah. Last year, I had to send in stuff for tie dyeing T shirts for DARE, man, with very little notice too, of course that always how it goes. I remember one afternoon, and I had finished some sort of teacher training a few minutes before school got out, so I was at the school, but the sub in my class was a super chatty sub than I knew her. So I knew, I knew I’d be cornered if she saw me. So I wanted to wait till she left before going to my classroom. So while I was hiding out on the other side of the school, some moms were waiting for their kids. And while they waited, they were commenting on the display outside of the classroom. And this teacher had given each kid a poster board marked in like 10 big squares. And they have the assignment to glue 1000 things to it with 100 and each square and then bring it back to school. And the teacher hung the poster boards outside her room so everyone can see them. And they did look cool. But those moms were not there for how cool it like they were just venting about how annoyed they were about having to do it. It had been a huge inconvenience to find 1000 things, their kids got bored gluing them on, transporting the poster boards back and forth was a hassle, things were coming loose, there were macaroni noodles everywhere, right. So this turned into a battle instead of a learning experience. And I had never been big on sending home projects. But that moment really solidified my resolve that I wasn’t going to assign parent projects. I didn’t follow up with feedback from any of my students, parents, but I’m just going to guess that they appreciated not having to glue 1000 buttons at 11:30 at night. And obviously, not all parents have issues with these types of projects. But from the many parents I have talked to over the years, I know the majority do not like them. So let’s be more mindful about parent projects. Like I mentioned earlier, I was pretty good about avoiding parent projects. But now looking back, I think my general homework policy could have used some tweaking, not having kids, I hadn’t appreciated how crazy busy the hours between school ending and bedtime can be. So I would send home a half sheet of review problems Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then they would have a whole week to do their spelling practice. So really, it wasn’t a crazy amount of work. The kids could easily finish it in 10 to 15 minutes. But if I were going to do it now, I would send him all the homework for the week at once. And let families figure out when was the best time to work on homework, instead of assuming that school should be the biggest priority of their evenings. Oh, yeah, the years my kids get their homework for the whole week at once have been so much better for our family, because some days of the week are just much busier than others. So I appreciate being able to decide what days work best to get the homework done. And I really prefer the homework to be really easy to do like a worksheet or something on an app. Let me help them with a quick worksheet and check homework off the list. So we can be done with that and do the things we want to do with our time together. And I know some schools have stepped away from assigning homework at all. But if you do send homework, one thing you can do to support parents is to make sure that parents understand what the homework is asking. In our homework folders. We had examples of problem types for math and what kind of answers we were looking for. For example, like one of the pages had a story problem. And then it showed five different ways students had solved the same problem. One of the things that we sell in our TPT store is homework for teachers to send home with their students. And so we make sure to include things like parent tips, and I CAN statements so parents know what the focus of the activity is. And we try to include picture keys for things like phonics practice. So yeah, that is so important. Those pictures can be so cryptic. Is it a dog? Is it a pup? Yeah, I saw one the other day that took me a while and right I have a background in this. So it took me awhile to figure out parents are gonna be in trouble. And I finally figured out that it was not. And I only figured that out because I knew it had to be short O. Yeah, we got to include those those picture keys.

So we hope these guidelines have given you some ideas for how you can improve the relationship with the families of your students. We’d love to hear what you do to be a more parent friendly teacher over in our teacher approved Facebook group.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is try wristband reminders. Emily tell us about this. Okay, so you know those paper wristbands that you get when you go to a concert? Yes. The idea is to use those to write an important reminder on and send them home on your students wrist. So obviously you’re not going to want to do this all the time. But I saw this idea ages ago and thought it was such a clever way to make sure something really important, like picture day, or a field trip gets clearly communicated home. Obviously, digital communication is great and important to use still, even if you want to try this idea. But I think sometimes a physical reminder like this can be really helpful for a very important announcement. And I think that’s a great idea because you’re also reminding the kids who are going to miss all the emails and the notes home. Yes. And so if the kids have that physical reminder, they can also remind their parents so you’re getting double reminders. Yes. Sometimes it takes everything short of skywriting to get all of the information from school to the parents. Do you remember when we were kids? They would put stickers on our shirt with like when our lunch bill that would be a major no go now, but I can see the logic there. Makes no sense. We got to help parents get the information somehow.

To wrap up the show we’re sharing what we are giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to? I am giving extra credit to bite toothpaste bits. If you’ve never seen these before, they look like little mints but you chew them up and then you brush your teeth. They come in a little glass jar so there’s no gloppy toothpaste tube on your bathroom counter all day right. And I have found that my sink stays so much cleaner. Plus there’s no plastic waste. It did take me a couple of days to get used to them but it wasn’t as hard to transition as I was expecting. And I’ve been using them for I think I just hit like my two year anniversary. And I don’t think I could go back to regular toothpaste now. Although I did try their dental floss and it did not work for me. But the bites deserve extra extra credit. I love it. We’ll put a link for those in the show notes.

Emily, what’s your extra credit this week? I’m giving extra credit to the new Mo Willems book The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster. We are huge fans of the pigeon in our house. And apparently, we were so excited about this new release that I pre ordered it twice. Not even the first time I’ve done that. It’s another darling story about the pigeon getting all up in his head about something he’s excited to do ride a roller coaster, but you’ll have to find a copy to read soon so you can find out whether or not the roller coaster lived up to his expectation. The end papers of the pigeon books are always so delightful too and this one is no exception. We don’t deserve more William I know it’s too pure. And we set the extra copy into my first graders class for the classroom library and they enjoyed reading it as well.

That’s it for today’s episode. Try some of our strategies to help become a more parent friendly teacher. And don’t forget today’s teacher approved tip for using reminder wristbands.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.