Meet the Parents
Encourage Positive Interaction Before Instruction
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the October 2017 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication.”
Toward the end of each school year, my school system schedules a professional work day known as “Articulation Day.” Its purpose is to provide staff members a chance to discuss the outcomes of the year, celebrate successes, prioritize missed targets, consider the succession of particular students, review curriculum, evaluate needs, and so forth. This process can be a wonderful tool for collaboration. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of time during Articulation Day is taken up by fatigued staff members passing along their various frustrations of individual students to those who will teach these same students for the upcoming year.
At first, I was not a fan of hearing about a future student’s prior behavior. I was fearful that this knowledge could seep into my unconscious and I might treat the student differently upon meeting. I want each child’s experience with a new educator to be that of a clean slate. Just because one teacher encountered behavioral concerns with a student doesn’t mean that I, or another colleague, will too. Did this teacher try different ways to interact positively with the student? Did this teacher enlist the support of the parents early in the relationship? Did this teacher discipline the student more than complimenting him/her?
Over time, I’ve come to accept that I’m occasionally going to hear negative words from colleagues about my future students. I certainly don’t enjoy getting this information, but I have come to use it as a tool to begin effective communication with the student and his/her family. It’s also a foreshadowing of what could transpire with a student’s academic, behavioral, or social progress if I don’t communicate effectively. I’ve learned to turn unfavorable information into a plan of action: to make a student and his/her family feel welcomed and supported in a new classroom or program.
I’ve learned to turn unfavorable information into a plan of action: to make a student and his/her family feel welcomed and supported in a new classroom or program.
At the start of each school year, my goal is to solidify a positive relationship with each child’s parents. I attempt to do this before the school year begins. It may be impossible to reach out to all parents then, but at the very least, it’s essential to establish a channel of communication as quickly as possible with as many parents possible.
For an effective and positive first communication with parents, consider the following:
- Discover a positive or interesting trait about the child. Allow colleagues to share this information with you. Does the student play an instrument or sing a voice part that’s needed in the ensemble? Does the student possess a talent outside of music that could be beneficial? Maybe he’s an artist and could illustrate the front cover of a concert program. Maybe she’s interested in dramatics and could narrate a musical selection. Or maybe you and the student share an interest outside of academics that could form a bond. Does he/she cheer for the same sports team as you? Does he/she admire the same authors?
- Make parent contact early in the new relationship. Consider introducing yourself to a student’s parent before the semester begins. Make this initial contact over the phone or in person. Email does not allow for the inflection of your voice to be heard. Let your enthusiasm and care, and that of the parent, be felt or seen.
- Begin with a compliment. Compliment the parent’s child on the positive or interesting traits that you learned about him/her. Inform the parent that you look forward to experiences with the child that will bring out those traits.
- Explain your programmatic philosophy, instructional intentions, and/or behavior expectations. Be specific. What types of behavior do you hope this first conversation will encourage or prevent?
- Enlist the parent’s help. Ask the parent to share any information about the child that he/she thinks may be beneficial to you. Suggest actions that the parent can take at home to support the needs of the child, the educator, or the program. Ask the parent to tell his/her child about the conversation that the two of you have had.
- Follow up with feedback. As the school year unfolds, whether positive behaviors of the child continue or unfavorable behaviors emerge, keep the parent informed. Reinforce your initial expectations and provide reminders of how the parent can continue to support the cause.
If the first conversation I have with a parent is on the phone, at the end of the call I often ask if the child is home and if I may briefly speak to him/her. I’ll then say hello, introduce myself, share that I’m excited to be his/her teacher, and inform the child that his/her parent will explain the reason for my call. Most children often respond in a shocked or hesitant manner, but always with politeness, knowing that their parent and teacher have just formed an educational bond.
Communicate effectively. Build trust. Meet the parents. Be proud to be their child’s teacher.
If the first interaction a parent has with you, the educator, is enthusiastic and encouraging, then the parent most likely will support future interactions with you. Trust can form before the child even enters your classroom. All parents enjoy hearing compliments about their children. If this practice begins from the start of the relationship, then the parent will want to support your intentions and guide his/her child’s success appropriately. Communicate effectively. Build trust. Meet the parents. Be proud to be their child’s teacher.
About the author:
Lori is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom. As a writer for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, and conductor. As an avid presenter at conferences, professional development sessions, and universities nationwide, she serves as a resource for building inspiring music programs, developing effective classroom management techniques and rehearsal routines, motivating diverse learners, and achieving unity in ensembles. Within Maryland, Lori serves as Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University and as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo and Ensemble Festival. As Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, she has collaborated with composers Brian Balmages, Tyler S. Grant, Samuel Hazo, Richard Saucedo, Robert Sheldon, and Frank Ticheli. Learn more about Lori here.
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