ListenParents are struggling. They are not okay right now.
They may be reaching out to you for help, and you may be thinking to yourself, “I didn’t sign up to teach parents how to teach.”
However, this is where we’re at. Parents have been tasked with becoming their child’s teacher with no training, no plans, no support, and no background that could help them.
Imagine if your district suddenly decided to put all the educators in an employee pool (not the kind you swim in - the kind you get picked from), and each week, they would randomly assign you to a class. You wouldn’t be matched up by your certifications, your experience, your interests, or how prepared you were. You’d just be assigned.
How well would you do?
Could you succeed? Of course. You’re a teacher. There would probably be a curriculum.
But even with those resources, would you be able to offer an education equal in quality to that which someone with more experience and investment in the subject and/or grade level would?
And you’d probably be a little terrified, let’s be honest.
Parents have it worse than that. There is no “general education” required to become a parent. There are no child and adolescent development classes mandatory, no tests to take, no minimum standards to fulfill before receiving their position.
We need to scaffold for our parents right now and share our experiences and expertise in a way that isn’t condescending and off-putting.
What Do Parents Need?
1. Review Lessons and to Be Included on “The Plan”
Parents need to know what their child should be learning, and they need to be able to ask you questions about the content. They need to have the ability to do the work themselves AND be able to explain how to do it.
It may be easier in some cases to have a class FOR parents, where you invite them for a quick 15-minute review of the content you are about to teach. Math and grammar are usually two of the toughest areas for parents to recall, for example, so going over your method and helping them understand the content first, before you present it to the students, can really help.
Another area that parents need a lot of help is in elementary reading and writing. Parents don’t feel qualified to teach phonics, reading, or comprehension skills. Quickly offering them an overview of what each element is in a crash course may make them feel more confident about helping their child succeed.
2. To Feel Heard and Validated
You’ve got to communicate that parents can do this. You’ve got to be very careful not to give them the impression that you are better than them, that you know more than them, or that you think this is a waste of time. Frankly, none of that is true, and if you’ve got that attitude, not only are you way off the mark, but your parents can sense it from a mile away - and they will stay away from you. In the end, the student will suffer from your bad attitude, and that’s not okay.
Parents may just need to talk to someone who is accustomed to being around children all day every day. They need you to tell them they are doing a good job. If you aren’t a parent and don’t understand this need, ask someone who is a parent. Parenting, on its best day, is daunting. You’re always second-guessing yourself and trying to figure out what the next right thing is.
The last thing they need is judgement from you.
Validate their feelings, listen to their stories, and answer their questions. Keep an even demeanor, and don’t show surprise or disdain at things they don’t know. They are asking for your help. They want to learn. Treat them with mercy, grace, and kindness, just as you would any student.
3. For You to Take the First Step
Even if it’s unintentional, schools and teachers are very intimidating. The fewer positive experiences your students’ families have had, the more likely they are to be hesitant to get involved with you at all.
You may feel hesitant to approach families. You know they have a lot going on, you know they have your information if they need you, and you may feel like the ball is in their court. However, you may need to take the first step, and you may need to do it several times before you get any sort of real interaction.
Chances are good that you aren’t actually bothering them, so don’t assume that. They may even tell you that you’re bothering them, but continue reaching out to them. Not daily, but once or twice a week.
It’s better to reach out and not get anywhere than to not reach out and leave questions unanswered.
4. Answers to Questions They Can’t Even Ask
If you’re a seasoned teacher, think back to your first year, or the first time you tried a new hobby. Everything was overwhelming and foreign-feeling. You didn’t even know what you didn’t know. You couldn’t ask questions because you were so new that you didn’t have a concept to really build on.
Again, you’ll have to be proactive. Assume that if one or two parents are asking, others may be wondering the same thing.
Think ahead. Evaluate what parents may not know and prepare to share that information in a way that they will see, hear, and understand it.
Being available for conversations with parents routinely will give them the opportunity to plan ahead, too. They’ll know you’ll be contacting them again and may start thinking of questions to ask or things to discuss the next time you contact them.
Don’t contact parents just to check a box or fulfill the request of an administrator. Contact them with the intent to build relationships and offer support.
They may need information about child development to explain why their children are doing annoying things or can’t understand some math concept. They may need ideas on how to keep their children active in an apartment when it rains for a week straight. They may just need to speak to another adult (surely, we all know that feeling).
5. Connections to Resources
Now more than ever, families may be looking for help with food, medical care, and other community resources. Keep yourself informed and connected so you can pass information on to families as they may need it.
When people have to ask for resources, it takes a lot of courage and humility. It can be a humiliating experience to have to ask your child’s teacher if they know of anyplace you can get food for your family, or money to pay a light bill before the electricity is cut off. Be aware that many people are struggling, and you may even consider asking all your families specifically if they have food, if they are safe, and if they need any resources that you can help them find.
If you’re asking everyone, and doing it consistently, you raise the chances of having parents confide in you when they really do need help.
How Do I Find Time for This?
You may be wondering how you can possibly fit all this into an already very full schedule. The first answer is to consider it part of what you are already doing for students.
Your role has changed a lot, and much of your responsibility has had to be passed on to parents. You may not be doing all the things you once did in the classroom, especially as far as managing students and keeping them physically safe and active. Consider this the way you can extend that physical safety.
Also, realize that by teaching parents, you’re making your own job easier. If you have parents to offer “backup”, and you’ve taught them all they need to know, they can then fill in any gaps their children have.
This is especially important for families with many children. They can’t all be on the internet at once, and often, they’re having to share devices. A quick touching of bases can be done before or after you teach everyone else just to keep them up to speed on their child’s learning.
Another advantage of this is that you’ll have a lot less to explain when it comes to grading and reporting because the parents will already know what’s going on and be involved. Rather than viewing it as “extra time”, view it as “pre-conferencing”. If you have to have end-of-the-year conferences, you’ll really just have to tie up a few loose ends rather than spending a lot of time catching them up to speed.
You’re not necessarily having to make extra time, you’re frontloading and presenting solutions before a problem occurs. It’s preventative.
In the Future…
Parents need to be included more often in education. One of the reasons they feel so lost and overwhelmed is because we do our best as a society to completely separate family and education. That’s got to change.
Parents need to be told in a way they understand what their children are learning. They need to be given ways to support their children. They may need to be retaught themselves when you cover information they’ve forgotten, and they don’t need to be shamed for that. They need to be praised for wanting to be involved with their child’s education.
Families can be the most important resource we have access to, and yet we tend to look at them as though they are a burden, or even a curse. We avoid them, talk down to them, talk over their heads, and treat them as enemies. What we need to do is pursue relationships with them, explain ourselves clearly, speak directly to their questions and concerns, and include them.
Now we know how uncertain each day can be with our students. Giving more power to parents in their child’s education will ensure that students don’t miss out, regardless of what happens.
Education cannot continue to revolve around the teacher. It just can’t.
It’s time to pivot education. It’s time for students and families to be our main focus.