Prep Hour Praise: Communicating With Parents

Rationale

By seventh hour of the school day I have expended a considerable amount of energy—always engaged, in the moment, “on”—greeting, coaching, moving around the classroom, explaining, preparing for the next class period, exchanging, collecting, organizing, and reorganizing. Does any of this sound familiar?

After teaching five classes and supervising a study hall, I finally get a few moments to sit and reflect at the end of my school day. Early in the school year I committed to increase communication with parents and end each day on a positive note to avoid dragging negativity home to my family. Therefore, as often as possible, I dedicate the first ten minutes of my seventh hour prep period to email praise to the parent of a student who did something noteworthy.

Common Sense Approach

Obviously, positive feedback is always welcomed and establishes lines of trust. I’m a parent too—I get it—but as a teacher, I rarely acted on it. Although I am not the first educator to make a habit of this practice, it is a worthwhile reminder for those whose stress levels increase as the end of each mark period approaches. This mental exercise also provides an opportunity to recharge before grading papers and planning for the next day, neither of which should be attempted with low levels of motivation.

Benefits

The simple effort of taking several moments to compose a thoughtful message kindles a series of benefits. What parent does not appreciate reading kind words about his/her child? We expect parents to recognize the good in their children and boast of their merit (some to excessive levels of pride…), but praise from the unbiased perspective of another adult is highly credible. Shared observations of students are powerful, as are the responses from parents:

WOW!!!
I have always considered [my daughter*] to be an incredible gift. I’m glad that she is a blessing to you too:)
Your e-mail made my day!

*Note: [daughter/son] is substituted for names of students to protect the modest.

Early communication with parents (particularly of freshmen) sets the tone for the rest of the year.

Thank you very much for taking the time to let us know how [our daughter] is doing and for the kind words. [Our daughter] is really enjoying GHS and as a parent that means quite a bit. We hope that you have an enjoyable and fulfilling school year.

As always, if there is ever a concern, please let us know.

Keep up the great work with the kids.

The exchange of messages also clarifies roles and sets expectations of students, parents, and teachers.

Please know how much we appreciate the email. [My son] is very serious about his school work and his grades. He truly is enjoying your class and we hope he will continue to work hard.

Thanks – nice to hear she is focused – she always does better when she is busy. Let me know if anything changes. Have a great school year!

Parents do not get to observe what happens in the trenches, nor do they see their children in an academic setting. Typical adolescents have little to say when asked what they did in school. If communication of what occurs in the classroom is left to the student… enough said…

Thank you for emailing me – you made my day.
It depends on [my son’s] mood whether or not he would have told me. Typical boy!
I hope you have a great weekend also.

Thanks for your comments. Working with young men I am sure you know that sometimes they aren’t very informative with their parents. I do keep a close eye on [my son’s] grades, but your last sentence is the one that I appreciate the most. We just returned from our first college campus visit this past weekend, and one of my biggest concerns with his HS curriculum in regards to preparing for his college career is finding ways to challenge [him]. So thank you for looking for ways to challenge him and please feel free to let me know if there is anything his dad and I can do to help.

Just as they fail to communicate with parents, students might also hesitate to share an area of interest or admit a personal struggle to a teacher. The feedback from parents provides valuable information for teachers to work with and builds a bridge between school and home.

Thank you for the update. [Our daughter] has always really enjoyed English class. She tends to be quieter in group situations and I am glad to hear she is participating.

Thank you for the kind words about [our daughter]. We are glad to hear she is making progress in class. The current book you are reading has really made an impression on her and gotten her excited about the project. She actually rented the movie from the library and watched it already.

Most school communication with parents is initiated by concerns or issues. When prior trust is established, parents may not get as defensive if complications arise later in the year. They know the teacher is observant and forthright; any situation in class will be monitored and handled appropriately, with the student’s best interest in mind

Thank you so much for filling in the blanks. I only get his perspective. We are clearly having trouble with [our son] and we don’t know why. With all the pieces in place, I will be handling this in a different fashion.

I will be in touch.

With parent-teacher conferences approaching, any dialogue in advance may alleviate tension or diffuse hostility. It also limits the need for some parents to stand in line outside the classroom door merely waiting to hear teachers gush about their wonderful kid’s A++. With limited time for each conference, face-to-face interaction needs to focus on the student’s progress, areas in need of greater attention, and actions necessary to ensure learning.

The most beneficial effect, whether spoken or not, is increased rapport with students. Parents frequently share the favorable reports with their children; students then return to class with greater respect for their teacher (You noticed me? You recognized my efforts? Interesting…). Trust is established, positive behavior is reinforced, and classroom management occurs naturally (allowing us to learn with a purpose.

Thank you so much for the positive feedback about [my daughter]. She really enjoys your class and the assignments. She enjoys writing and has spent significant time working on her personal projects. She told me she attended a meeting for the school magazine last week and is excited to participate. I encourage her to explore her interests and hope that it helps her positively grow academically and as a young woman.
I greatly appreciate your role as a teacher and the positive impact you make on my daughter’s life, as I’m sure many of the parents do.

In the amount of time it takes to walk to the office to check for mail, a teacher has the opportunity to make a genuine connection with a parent–a community member with whom future paths may cross in some of the most unexpected ways. And keep in mind, community members talk (often too much). If we do not provide the conversation starters, talk radio and local newspapers will.

The Results

Although other responsibilities interfere with sending an email daily, as the year progresses, I find one or two days a week to communicate words of praise. This simple practice reminds me of a time–sitting through college methods courses–when I had bright-eyed hopes of making a Hollywood “Oh Captain, My Captain” impact every day.

Now, as years of experience fight to corrode my enthusiasm, I head home feeling lighter than the daily grind typically allows. I do not always receive, nor expect, responses from parents, but replies are uplifting to read, especially before going to sleep or at the beginning of a school day. The comments are inspirational reminders that my line of work is not merely test scores and report cards; it’s about human emotions and relationships.

The transition from her class of 8 kids at St. Joe’s to the high school has been a bit challenging for her. It all seems a bit overwhelming…..

She has absolutely loved having you as a teacher this year. For as quiet as she is, [my daughter] has had a lot to say about you! Thank you for all that you do, and please know that you have made a difference in the life of my child.

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2 comments

  1. Rik Rowe

    Brian, thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for learning, sharing and communicating. Together we will empower an exciting future for our Learners and ourselves. Keep up the great communication since everyone benefits!

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