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I was just talking to some friends last night about how difficult it was for me at one time to pick up the phone to make any phone call, or to invite practitioners and other academics to events, or to engage with community members, students, and other stakeholders interested in my individual research or the academic programs in which I taught. The research tells us that such engagement is important and I knew it was important, but it was not something I was used to doing and did not make time to do even though I knew of the importance.

In How to Be an Effective Teacher: The First Days of School the authors describe this for teachers (Wong and Wong, 2005: p. 158):

Effective teachers communicate and work cooperatively with students’ homes. However, calling the home is not something most teachers like to do. This is because most teachers do not know how to call the home. They are as scared to call the home as the people at home are to hear from the school.

The good news is that when teachers and leaders are aware of this, they can make concerted efforts to focus on engaging parents; and when the whole team or entire school gets involved the outcome will be increased parent (and other stakeholder) satisfaction. Thus, it begins with teachers providing personal service. Personal service in education means the principal, teacher, or staff member having direct impact in the life of a child who is loved by a parent/guardian (Studer, 2008). Consider the following from Results That Last (p. 289):

If you provide personal service, what you’re really doing is asking customers to trust you with something—or someone—they care deeply about. People are understandably skittish about letting someone cut their hair or clean their home or keep their beloved pet for a week. They would really appreciate some verbal comfort when they sit down in that salon chair or hand over their spare house key or drop off Fido on their way out of town.

In this same section of the book, Studer goes on to describe an experience he had as a man going to get a facial. He describes how he was “nervous.” Now, consider what parents must feel when they “let go” of their kids on that first day of school. Looking back on his experience, Studer explains (p. 290):

I couldn’t help but wonder how much more I would have enjoyed [the experience] if the [aesthetician] had employed some Key Words at Key Times to put me at ease and tell me what to expect. For example: “Hello, my name is… I have a degree from… I am thoroughly trained in… Here is what you can expect during the next hour and a half… and here is what you should do when you leave here today to maximize the benefits of our session.” Oh, and it wouldn’t have hurt for her to reassure me…

Now, again, translate this into education. If teachers provide personal service, what they are really doing is asking parents to trust them with educating and caring for their child whom the parents care deeply about. Wong and Wong suggest before the first day of school teachers send a note to the parents of each of student on their class roster as well as their students. Again, from How to Be an Effective Teacher the authors encourage teachers to “adapt and apply the [following] examples to [their] situation” (p. 103):

In our research we recognize the importance of parents as a teacher and supporter of their children. Unfortunately, teacher-parent communication is usually infrequent and usually occurs when the teacher is having difficulty with a youngster. Teachers must learn how to have welcoming and genuine interaction with the parents of their students. When teachers do so, they are helping to make their classroom a performance-driven learning environment and one where parents feel that the teacher cares to know them, understands their needs regarding their child, and believes they and their child are important.

Of course, this kind of parent-teacher relationship does not automatically occur. Teachers need to do particular things at the beginning of each year to build a genuine relationship with parents. Some parents are not always easy to connect with; some students might have adults other than parents who serve as their caregivers; and others may have parents who are difficult to get in touch with. No matter the situation, each parent or caregiver is important and deserves an opportunity to be part of their child’s classroom. In Friday’s blog we’ll present how one school district focused on just that and upon doing so saw their parental participation and parent satisfaction scores increase.

 

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Studer, Quint. 2008. Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors that will take your Company to the Top. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wong, Harry K., and Wong, Rosemary T. 2005. How to be an Effective Teacher: the First Days of School. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. To do this we teach teachers and leaders how to get the best student learning results and create results-oriented school cultures. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com to learn more about Studer Education Teacher Development Institutes (TDIs), Leader Development Institutes (LDIs), and Evidence-Based Leadership. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, the recipient of a 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.