Feb 5, 2013

Communicating with Parents

A whole host of studies show that kids with engaged parents are more successful in school. They achieve more, are generally more safe, and most importantly, are more confident as they go through the schooling continuum.

I worry sometimes that this is because parents are marks-driven. I worry that the engaged parents are the ones saying, “You need to get 90s.” I worry that these studies reinforce the idea of parents and teachers as enforcers of compliance. But that’s a separate blog post.

Getting parents involved is important. Their involvement must go beyond parent’s night and report cards. And so I try something new.

Every Friday, in one of my classes, I’m having students write an e-mail to a parent. In the scope of a good conference, I’m having them write the e-mail, cc-ing me, that includes three components. 1. Their successes of the week. 2. Things they struggled with this week. 3. Their goals for next week. Every Friday, each student is going to answer the question, “What did you do at school, today?” with something more than, “Nothing.”

The idea of the e-mail is to encourage and enable students to tell the story of their learning. In their words, reflect on what’s working, what’s not and how they plan on going forward. But that’s not all. Every two weeks (I’ve divided the class in half, so 15 one week, 15 the other), I plan on replying to the e-mail, to each student and their parent. My reply will acknowledge, encourage, support and strategize with that student and their parent. It’s my attempt to let learning take precedence. It’s not about communicating a number, but rather it’s about documenting the process.

There are some reservations I can foresee: What if there are no parents? I think send an e-mail to someone you hope to make proud. What if the parent doesn’t have e-mail? We go old school and we write a letter.  What if a student doesn’t write it? I still write my e-mail to them and the parent. However, it is based on my observations and conversations. The idea is that someone else is then telling their story.

Like anything, it’s an experiment. It’s an attempt at bringing together three pillars of a child’s education (themselves, school, parents). It’s something active that brings parents into the community of learning. But it might not work. I’m willing to take that gamble.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this plan, possible problems, etc.

Thanks to Mike Pinkney for helping me refine my ideas while shouting over the playing of the house band and thanks to Anne Doelman for lending me the book, Conferencing and Reporting by Kathleen Gregory et al.


  • This is an intriguing idea Scott. Good luck with this. I am equally interested in how your parents react. This semester I had my essential students call home to leave messages, or call parents on their cells to remind themselves of a test. As one of my students (whose mother wants her to get 70%) was talking to her mother I could hear her yelling at her to not call her…it is her job to remember this stuff.

    I might try this myself.

  • Tom,
    I considered this. Am I being intrusive with information? I guess my response is that e-mail itself is fairly passive. It requires no parent action and therefore, if a parent doesn’t like it, they can always delete the e-mail. Though, I’m obviously on the more hopeful side of this.
    If you try I’d love to hear how it goes.

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