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Tips for Engaging Parents this School Year

August 9, 2011

It's that time again for many of us worldwide to start the new school year!

This time of year is very exciting, but it also comes with new challenges.

One of the most important challenges of the school year is how to engage parents.

Engaged parents make decisions and have a say in what happens in the classroom and with the curriculum. Engaging parents was something I often struggled with for many years.

Here are a few practical ways to get your parents to become partners.

Begin the conversation

Instead of having parents sign a syllabus with difficult language, try sending a personalized email.

  • I use a blanket email that I copy and paste but the first two sentences always says something along the lines of, 'Dear Mr./Mrs. Doe, I really enjoyed meeting Johnny who is very bright and made me laugh.' I always try to send a positive message for every child. This way, the first communication you have with the parent is positive versus negative.
  • Include information and links to your wiki page, school website, your contact information, where they can find homework, your meeting hours, schools supplies needed, and other important dates or information.
  • Use headers like I am using in this post for easy navigation.
  • Try translating with Google if you know the parents of your English language learners have trouble understanding. I often will begin the email with 'I'm sorry if this isn't translated so well. I used Google.' Parents really get a kick out of this and love me for the effort.
  • At the end of the email, ask the parents to respond with answers to questions like what is the best time to contact them and how they would like to help. If the parents have a question, they are more likely to respond back.
  • If the parent doesn't have email, then send the printed letter home with the child that asks for the best way to contact them.

Set up an online parent community

Set up a community for your parents to communicate with you and other parents. You can easily do this with Facebook.

  • These communities allow parents to post updates to calendars, share resources, find homework, and so much more. These social networks can be made private so that only students and parents have access.
  • Try posting a resource every week or month that will help parents with their own English.

Keep parents active

Partnerships work best when we help each other.

  • Let parents make decisions. Ask parents what they think would make the curriculum better. Then try to implement the suggestion. In the past, I have had parents add Wiki content such as song lyrics or YouTube videos. I have had parents suggest an activity for a book or a game.
  • Invite parents to volunteer and help. I have had parents decorate the classroom or update the calendar in our online community. I have had parents organize fundraisers to get computers or other needs in the classroom. I have had parents be in charge of the activity of the month or resource of the month. Parents have organized field trips or have been guest speakers. Just like students, parents often need to know how they can help and be assigned roles so they feel like you value them and their ideas. Every parent can help in some way to improve the learning environment.
  • Invite parents to a workshop. Invite parents to a special workshop night and serve food! Food entices people to come. I like to do this after the first few weeks in order to go over what technology we will use in the classroom, games we will play, rules, and more. I talk to parents about their concerns with their children posting online and we come to an agreement on what will be published.

Share your ideas

I hope these ideas will help you begin the school year right with your language learners and their parents! Whether your students are toddlers or teenagers, these ideas have worked for me! What are your favorite ways to engage parents?

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Comments (7)

Jeannie (Guest)

Great ideas! I find dealing with parents to be one of the most intimidating parts of teaching. Do you worry that having a focus on communicating through e-mail and on-line groups would exclude those families who do not have internet access or parents who are not web-savvy? Do you send paper copies of all correspondence home to such parents?

Reply to Comment

Shelly T.(Author)

Hi Jeannie!

Great question! I like to preserve paper so I only send the paper home if the student tells me the parent does not have e-mail. I have had to do this 5 times since I started this practice 7 years-ago. I also give parents the optin of receiving a paper copy as well of items. Most choose the e-mail. By this time, however, I already know the student's background and can even print a copy with the Google translation. Often I even get the students to help me correct the wording. I just try to receive a response from every parent to make sure I can communicate with them regularly.

Reply to Comment

Jeff (Guest)

This blog is the BEST RESOURCE I have found, actually a friend from the GOOGLE PLUS(Like Facebook), sent me the link.

I am right now planning to become a TEFL teacher. My problem is trying to find the right school or online program for a TEFL certification.

Problem is there is no 'Certification' Agency so there a 1000's of programs. Here in the US, many are over $1000, so I would hate to pay that if it is worthless in the country I go to.

MOST IMPORTANT is what to expect and to hear from someone doing it.

I am very happy to have found your page, and haven't read most yet, but I intend to keep up with it, and really learn what I can..

All my best.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Thanks Jeff! We're glad you like it.

Here is a resource that may help you choose a TEFL course:

Best of luck!

Reply to Comment

Kaylee (Guest)

As Chrilae Sheen says, this article is “WINNING!”

louise darcy(Guest)

Super page! Thanks so much for posting. Communicating with parents is a big focus for our school this year and I have found lots of useful tips and advice. Many thanks.


Reply to Comment

Lynn S Clark(Guest)

I work with high school ELA and ESL students on a volunteer basis, linking them with the university students I teach. These suggestions help us to think about how to involve parents who want to be involved but often face language, literacy, and technological challenges. Thanks for your terrific suggestions!

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