The students are back. Your bulletin boards are up. You are beginning to feel like you are in the swing of things. Though the general public claims that teachers have three months of vacation every year, I know very few teachers who aren’t teaching in August and June. And my experience is that the Labor Day holiday in America is really a weekend when most teachers are still laboring away in their classrooms or getting caught up at home from the long hours they have put into starting back to school.
Building a Positive Relationship with Parents
But there are still more steps to the process. If you are going to be successful with students, you also need to have a positive relationship with their parents. Often that starts even before you meet them face to face with a summer letter. Open Houses and Curriculum Nights also tend to be scheduled at the beginning of the school year. In this post I’m going to talk about making the most of curriculum nights. Those are the times when the parents come to school to walk through their child’s school day. In the early grades this can sometimes be handled in one classroom, but as children grow older, often the parents move from room to room following their child’s schedule for the school day.
What Teachers Tell Themselves
Sometimes the messages that administrators and teachers tell themselves aren’t the whole truth. We tell ourselves that parents come to Curriculum Night to learn about classroom policies, supplies needed, and how much time their child should spend on homework. We believe parents want to learn about classroom projects and the expectations of the teacher.
When parents come to Curriculum Night they really have only four (or five) burning questions in mind. They care very little about your preplanned presentation or your beautifully prepared class syllabus. Here is what they are really thinking.
- Will my child like this teacher?
- Will this teacher like my child? Will s/he be fair to my kid?
- In this classroom will my child learn? Will s/he have the opportunity to succeed?
- I wish I had the chance to ask or tell the teacher about this burning issue on my mind…
- In the junior and senior year of high school there is a fifth burning question. What are you going to do to help my kid get into college? This is unique to these two years. If you don’t address that on curriculum night, the parent will leave frustrated. Think about it ahead of time and address it on curriculum night.
I promise you those four (or five) questions are what is really on the parent’s mind. And they’ve already made a preliminary decision on questions number one and two.
The Real Truth
Like it or not…
Fair or not…
Accurate or not…
This is how the conversation goes when a child gets home from school on the first day…
Parent: “Hi honey. Did you have a great first day of school?”
“No. My teacher is mean. She doesn’t like me. And school is boring.”
“Yeah, It was great. My teacher is funny. She likes me.”
Whether we like it or not, it is the child’s first perception of school on the very first day that most influences a parent’s point of view about the teacher and the school year. Smart teachers figure that out quickly and are very careful about the first days of school. Fearful teachers say, “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving. That way the students will know who’s boss.”
Teacher Fears about Curriculum Night
On Curriculum Night teachers are afraid that one or two parents will tie them up asking personal questions about their child. “Do you think Nikki has ADHD?” Answers to these questions are confidential and it would be inappropriate to address when other parents could overhear a private response. And, let’s me honest, the teacher is probably still trying to figure out if Nikki is the one with the curly brown hair or the glasses. Those kind of conversations should best be left to parent teacher conference conversations.
Tips for Curriculum Night
- Smile! Even if you’re nervous, smile and joke a little. The parents will think, “Yes this teacher is friendly. My child will be able to approach this teacher with questions.”
- Be wise and have a sheet listing conference times for which a parent may sign up. This will help you greatly when you begin to schedule conferences. ALSO it lets the parents know that coming up they will have a chance to discuss private issues with you.
- Tell the parents how much you enjoy this class. The parents aren’t particularly interested in how busy or stressed you are. They want to believe you enjoy this class which includes their kid.
- Don’t just spew off rules and deadlines. Describe the strategies you will use to help all students succeed. One of my own daughters had special needs. I left too many Curriculum Nights almost in tears. Teachers were quick to talk about how they wouldn’t bend the rules or make modifications in front of a room full of parents. Many of them did make wonderful and necessary modifications for my daughter. But on curriculum night I often felt like my child had no chance to succeed. (This was especially true in the upper grades). Think about every parent who might be sitting in your room.
- Have the parents pick up an index card as they enter your room. In the front of the room have 3 questions on display. Invite the parents to write responses to these three questions.
1. What is your child saying about my class so far.
2. How can I help your child succeed in my classroom this year?
3. Do you have any questions or concerns you’d like to share about your child?
Collect the cards as they leave.
Don’t have them pass the cards to other parents. The contents may be private.
Don’t just have parents fill out the cards, read those cards as soon as possible. I read through them on Curriculum Night or at the latest, the next day. I put the most pressing concerns on top. For the next few days I called parents or emailed them and let them know I had read their comments. I would ask for further input in some cases. In other cases I would tell them what I was going to do to help them with their concern. My follow-up usually stunned and impressed parents, especially at the high school level.
This follow-up will help you enormously as a teacher. You will avoid inadvertent mistakes when you find out what is on the parents’ minds at the very beginning of the school year. The first weeks of school are crucial in developing a positive reputation in your school and community. Parents talk to other parents. The word will spread quickly that you are a caring professional, or the opposite. Do yourself a favor. Every interaction with the parent for the remainder of the school year will be easier if you make a positive impression from the beginning.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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