The holiday break is a natural time for teachers and parents to reflect on how the school year is going. For some, the year may be rolling along smoothly, right on plan with no bumps in the road while, for others, the first four to five months of the school year may have been littered with potholes and unexpected detours threatening to prolong the journey. Whatever the case may be, teachers and parents will  be wise to take the high road in reminding themselves and especially their students that, in fact, the best time to pause, assess and alter the status of a journey is not at the end, but at natural milestones along the way. Timely re-engagement across the teacher-parent-student team sharing the journey is equally important so that no one is surprised at the end of the year or the means to the end of the year.

Teachers and counselors may be heartened to know that K-12 parental involvement has been on the rise over the past twenty years and this makes the likelihood and impact of mid-year meetings promising. Parents do want to be informed and involved. That said, research also shows that not all parents have the same availability or capability to be as involved as they might like. Disparities in parental engagement exist by educational attainment, poverty status, and parents’ language capabilities. Some low-income parents work multiple jobs and do not have much flexibility to come into school during the day for meetings; some parents with limited education may be intimidated by the hurdles their children are facing and uncomfortable exposing a perceived helplessness; first generation families may be afraid to come to meetings because of expected language barriers. For example, in 2016, 62 percent of students with two parents who do not speak English had a parent attend a school or class event, compared with 71 percent of students with just one parent who does not speak English and 82 percent of students with two parents who speak English.

These realities serve as a reminder that it may take a bit more effort on the part of teachers and counselors to accommodate the needs of some parents in order to engage them. he return for that effort is a significant benefit to students – and, likely, great appreciation and support from caring parents. Ultimately, when engaging with any parents around their students’ success, we have found the following approaches to be highly effective.

Plan with a Heart

As a high school teacher and administrator, I found that an effective way to enlist parents’ support for a student success plan was to agree on a vision of what their child should know and be able to do as an independent young adult. By contrast, opening a meeting with a focus on emerging deficits or troublespots always puts parents on their heels and makes forward momentum a challenge. Instead, putting the student at the heart of the plan –and putting heart into that plan (i.e., a thoughtful strategy for helping each individual student navigate the vicissitudes of life in their ongoing pursuit of happiness) – is a sure way to establish a plan that everyone can support with enthusiasm. Indeed, once parents trusted that I had their child’s best long-term interests in mind – and theirs as well – they were likely to buy-in to a plan, even if it meant modifying patterns of work and behavior. – Patricia Gagnon, Senior VP, Programs & Practices

Know your Student

Teacher and Parent relations should focus on how best the student learns, what are key concepts they are learning and how to support the RTI process if a student needs help. Opportunities for teachers to send notes home showing student growth are important. A team approach to building a relationship is important to find the root cause of any problem. Teachers might want to survey the parents initially to find out what some of the prior difficulties have been, what does the student enjoy doing, and what is the best format to approach any situation with the family. Self-evaluations done by students on their interest, difficulties, and getting to know them shows the importance of building relationships with the student which can lead to better parent/teacher meetings and communication. – Deborah Hardy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor

Embrace Connections

Counselors should be a conduit to helping in a parent/teacher relationship.  Counselors can help to reach out and be a support when the student is challenged or struggling in a class. Find a way to document all supports from all parties. The documentation can be an invaluable tool when trying to find the best support for a student. Often times, what worked for another teacher will work for the current teacher. The counselor can be an invaluable conduit that can help all. I always challenge parents to reach out and be an active participant in their child’s education. – Matthew Liberatore, Senior Advisor

Our passion at Intellispark is to bring understanding and knowledge to all stakeholders, and not just within the walls of the school. We are building Intellispark Pulse to engage the school, parents and community in the success of every student. We look forward to exploring future topics that speak to ways to engage parents in the support and success of their student.

Patricia Gagnon

Patricia Gagnon

Patricia Gagnon is senior vice president of programs and practices at Intellispark. Patricia is a passionate educator and innovator. As an educator, she is ever-focused on what sparks a student’s drive to learn and be successful. As an innovator, she works to develop solutions that transform the experience of users — in this case, students, parents, and the vast array of education professionals who support them.