Vignette #2 – In an attempt to improve communication with parents in their elementary school, a group of teachers gathers as a “taskforce” with the mission to address this school-wide issue. They find that in order to truly meet the communication needs of their community, they must start by asking parents what they want to know and how they want to learn it.
When a group of six teachers from across grade levels gathers together to work on improving communication with parents and caregivers, they are propelled into a productive discussion based on experience and materials brought to the table. A fourth grade teacher shares an article called “What Parents Want in School Communication” as a jumping off point for a discussion about how their school can best provide parents with clear, user-friendly expectations for student learning and behavior. It is helpful for the teachers to start by examining the results of a national survey from NSPRA (National School Public Relations Association) found in the article.* These nationwide survey results suggest that parents most value information on student progress (how to improve and timely notice when performance is slipping), information on what their child is expected to learn that year, homework and grading policies, curriculum descriptions, calendar of events, information on students’ safety and information about program changes. While many of these pieces of information sound familiar, the taskforce wonders about their school and what valuable insights they could gain by creating a survey for their community. The teachers notice a trend at their school with parents asking more about how their children are being treated and how they get along with others. They decide to include a few questions in their parent survey about student behavior in order to gain more specifics about parents’ concerns and beliefs. They also start to brainstorm ways that they can better share with parents their expectations around student behavior and what caregivers can do at home to help support the mission of their classrooms.
When the taskforce reads the top five answers to “how parents want school news” from the national survey, they are surprised by the results. While emails, online parent-portals, newsletters, school websites and telephone/voice message systems are all strategies that they have tried, the teachers are curious about the lack of newer technology on the list. With one of their “action items” directing them to explore blogging and tweeting as possibilities for better parent-teacher communication, they wonder if this is really what parents want and are ready to use. With a year of experimenting with new forms of communicating ahead, it seems even more important that the taskforce uses the survey to find out how open and able families will be to responding to the newer communication technologies. The group considers how they can further maximize this opportunity to explore issues of access for the families in their school so that the means of communication is varied and equitable in its outreach.
As another way of getting parent input to help improve clear communication, a third grade teacher shares an excerpt from the “Homeroom” blog of the U.S. Department of Education which features “Parents and Teachers: What does an Effective Partnership Look Like?” With opportunity for parents and teachers to answer questions such as “What do you think teachers want from parents?” and “What do you think parents want from teachers?” the teacher proposes that they introduce a similar dialogue at their school. From post-its on a board in the school entrance hallway to an actual blog on the school’s website, the teachers decide that this could be a helpful way to make connections between parents and teachers and help generate interest in the survey that they aim to roll out the following month. The group is inspired by this first session where they recognize that making expectations around learning and behavior clear to parents will be easier with a better sense of the expectations and concerns of the parents they are trying to serve.
- In “What Parents Want in School Communication,” Anne OBrien shares results from a survey completed by the NSPRA on what news/information parents want from schools, when they want it, and how they want to receive it. The article includes a downloadable version of the survey and highlights an important point – that in order to help build relationships between schools and families, it is important to gather information about what families say they need and want.
- This blog posting (Parents and Teachers: What Does an Effective Partnership Look Like?) from “Homeroom: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education,” poses the following questions for comment: What do you think teachers want from parents? What do you think parents want from teachers? Where might their interests converge? What is your vision for an effective partnership between parents and teachers? The result is an interesting list of postings that could be explored and expanded by a group of teachers and parents in your school.