Parent-teacher communication is extremely important to your classroom discipline plan. This is a critical task, and one that cannot be ignored simply because you are afraid of interaction and confrontation. These 5 steps will put you on the path of caring professionalism in your parent outreach responsibilities.
When I use the word "escalation," I am broadly referring to the involvement of any other adults in the classroom behavior management strategies of students - parents, principal, assistant principal, counselor, etc.
Escalation applies particularly in the case of classroom interventions.
Take every opportunity to greet them when they drop off or pick up their kids. Send home your newsletter regularly. Call to thank them personally when they volunteer or send supplies to school.
Make it a general policy that you actively get to know the families in your classroom, not just your students. The phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child" has been overused, but there is more than a grain of truth in it. Get the parents on your team before you find yourself needing to call a team meeting to correct student behavior.
"The teacher called today? That's great!"
Get the ball rolling one parent-teacher communication by talking about the one thing you have in common...their child:
"Hi Mrs. Ramirez! How are you doing? I was wondering if Sebastian told you anything about our big science experiment last week...he was so excited about it."
"Dr. Jeffries, so nice to see you. Elisa tells me you guys have a foreign exchange student at home that is teaching her some Tagalog words."
TIP: Always start any conversation with a parent with at least a small positive. This helps parent-teacher relationships tremendously.
Any time you are criticizing another human, whether she is your employee or your best friend or your student, you need to tap with a small, velvet-covered hammer, not swing away with a sledge hammer. Consider: How do you feel when a person - especially a person in an authority position such as your boss - criticizes you?
Good parent-teacher communication doesn't require that you get psyched up for a call by compiling a mental list of evidence against the child as if you are a prosecutor heading to court. One or two concise points are all that are needed.
Important: When you criticize a child for classroom behavior management (or anything, for that matter), if feels to the parent like you are also criticizing their parenting skills. That's why the following point is so important.
No matter how exasperated you may have become with Reuben, he is their child and you must be extremely sensitive to their natural, instinctive parental feelings...and you want the parents to remain fully confident that you will continue to treat Reuben fairly no matter what he has done.
"...so Reuben didn't meet my expectations about working with others in our little community, but the really good news is that he was very honest about what he did and I could tell that he understood how it made the other boy feel."
"I really think Taneeka learned something from this. After she redid the test without copying, she told me that she was surprised about how much she really did know all on her own."
They want to help, and frankly, most want to do something to avoid getting a similar call in the future. (Even if your parent-teacher communication is flawless, they would still rather not hear from you!) You are the classroom discipline expert in this situation and they may not have the skills to know what to do, so be specific:
"It would be really helpful to have Reuben write a short apology note. Consider it part of his homework tonight."
"If you asked Taneeka to talk through the entire event and ask her what she learned, it would really reinforce what I've gone over with her in class."
Make no mistake - this entire process can be hard work and emotionally draining. Take a look at the "Grayson" bullying case study on this page; it is an example of a time when I ended up calling 18 parents.
It was hard to make myself do this and I was very tired when I was done, but I knew the tremendous value of going through the process would pay off in better parent-teacher communication and discipline in the classroom in the future.
Positive discipline in the classroom is not for the faint-of-heart, is it? This is a demanding profession which is made even harder if you try to shoulder the entire load yourself. Bring the parents on board to help share the load and magnify your efforts to alter classroom behavior management for the better.
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