Vignette #1 – Reflecting upon and remedying mistakes made in her first year of teaching help a 6th year high school science teacher start the year off on a better foot with parents and students. Experience has taught Ms. Hardy that the initial communication with parents can be pivotal in setting a positive tone for this crucial partnership.
When Rachel Hardy began teaching seventh grade science six years ago, she admits to a rocky start with students and parents. Assigned to her position in August and challenged by lesson preparation, she shares that she did not give enough thought to her initial communication with parents. Once she “settled in” to the rhythm of the school year, Rachel intended to send out a letter about expectations and even try out a classroom blog. That said, time was limited when she typed out a quick letter to parents and students asking them to send in soil samples from their neighborhoods for a classroom experiment on the first week of school. Excited for this hands-on project, Rachel made multiple false assumptions: that all families would/could read her letter, that all families had access to soil in their neighborhoods, and that all families would have the time to gather samples. In addition, Rachel soon realized that she needed to establish a connection and clear expectations around learning/behavior with students and families before she could start making demands on them. Instead of the exciting experiment that Rachel had envisioned, she recalls starting the year off with a group of students/families who seemed confused, uncertain, and resentful. While Rachel worked on communicating expectations with her students and families throughout the year, she insists that this early mistake “set her back” and made for a more challenging year.
However disconcerting, Rachel now boasts that her rocky first year helped clarify what she needed to have in place for students/families before the school doors open in September. With some advice/assistance from more veteran teachers, Rachel now starts her “Welcome Letter” in August and makes certain that it is sent to students and families by or on the first day of school. Rachel has found that sharing some of her interests, challenges, and goals for herself and the class in this letter helps open a door for connection with students/families from the start. With humor sprinkled in the letter, she hopes to put students and parents at ease while also giving them a chance to know (and trust) that she is committed to helping all her students learn and grow throughout the year. In addition to the welcome letter, Rachel sends out a syllabus that contains the following: classroom goals, necessary supplies, details on class organization (so students will know how to organize their binders), classroom rules and procedures, classroom policies, expectations around classroom culture, how students will be graded and finally, her own “promises to students” section where she outlines her commitment to what students/families can expect from her over the course of the year. Rachel’s first student/family assignment comes in the form of a questionnaire that gives students/families a chance to share personal information, concerns, and their hopes for the year ahead. Rachel shares that these questionnaires provide vital information that helps her plan for the year and better meet the needs of her students and families. Once sent home in a hard copy, Rachel’s “first documents of the year” for students and families are now also emailed home and available on her classroom blog.
- Communicating with parents at the beginning of the year – From “Learn NC,” this article is particularly helpful for beginning teachers to understand the ingredients of starting the year off well with students and parents. It highlights the need to get to know and understand the community you are teaching, and also provides helpful templates for that first Welcome Letter and Questionnaire for students/families. It offers a template for a syllabus that outlines how/what learning/behavior expectations can be made clear to parents and students.
- In “9 Techniques for Building Solid Parent-Teacher Relationships,” Kechia Williams offers advice on the following communication methods: using registration time to build relationships with parents, creating detailed student information sheets, sending out parent surveys, making the open house a special event, contacting parents regularly with good news, planning a writing night, using technology, establishing an open door policy, and using the parent-teacher conference effectively.