Recently, this poster has been popped up several times on my Pinterest feed. First, I want to make it clear that I think it gives good, sensible advice and I’m sure it was written with the very best of intentions by a caring teacher. If all parents followed the advice on the poster, our children would surely have an easier, more successful time at school. However, I won’t be sending this advice home to the parents of my students. While it gives important advice, I think it fails to address some of the key issues that many of our students, especially those who are English language learners, face. Even worse, by constantly giving parents tasks they cannot possibly fulfill, we are sending them the message that if they don’t do these things they are bad parents. It’s both hurtful and untrue. As teachers, we can’t fix all of the problems that families face, but we can do our absolute best to support the families we work with and make it possible for them to help their children succeed. Instead of giving parents advice about what they can do better, I think it’s important for teachers to look at what we do, and how we can change our practice. So instead of giving advice to parents, here are my 7 suggestions for how teachers can support students and their families, plus a downloadable poster with practical ideas for implementing change in your classroom.
1. Instead of telling parents to ‘read to or with your child every night’, provide opportunities for children to read in and outside of school.
There are many reasons why a parent might not be able to read with their child every night. Maybe they work a night shift in order to pay the rent. Maybe children’s books are a luxury they cannot afford. Maybe they aren’t able to get to their local library to access the free resources there. Maybe the parent can’t read in English, and can’t access children’s books in their home language. Maybe they have other children to care for, elderly relatives, or other family responsibilities that pull them in all directions at once.
2. Instead of telling parents to ‘help your child with his/her homework every night’, only set homework that children can do independently.
Language barriers, time constraints, and knowledge barriers can all prevent a parent from helping with their child’s homework. Don’t forget the resources a homework assignment requires. I once asked a child why he hadn’t completed his color-by-numbers math sheet. His reply: ‘I don’t have any coloring pens’.
3. Instead of telling parents not to ‘talk negatively about your child’s teachers or about school’, encourage dialogue with families.
This is a tricky one. We don’t like to think about our parents being dissatisfied, but what if they are? What if the families have had an overwhelmingly negative experience with their own schooling? It can be hard to hide these things from children.
4. Instead of telling parents to ‘make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep and is ready for each school day’, reduce the organizational burden on students.
There isn’t anything teachers can do about children’s living situations. Maybe they live in an environment that’s too noisy for them to sleep. Maybe the family shares one room. Maybe the younger children are looked after by an older sibling who isn’t able to enforce bed time. We can’t change these things, but we can make it as easy as possible for students who are coping with life challenges.
5. Teach your child to be responsible for their actions and their school work.
I left this one unchanged as I completely agree with it. It’s also the teacher’s job to teach children responsibility though!
6. Instead of telling parents to ‘stay involved and feel free to contact your child’s teacher with any questions or concerns’ we should make it as easy as possible for parents to contact teachers.
If parents are not contacting you, find out why. Language barrier? Time constraints? They don’t feel they have anything to offer? I was amazed as a new teacher to find out that some of the parents I worked with more intimidated by me than I was by them.
7. Instead of telling parents to ‘ask your child about school every day and encourage them to discuss the day’, send students home with ready-made talking points.
If our students are excited about their day, they’ll want to talk about it! Bringing home pictures, copies of work, models, photographs, certificates and stickers gives students a ready-made talking point. The more parents know about what is going on at school, the more they are likely to ask their child about it.
Finally, put all these ideas into practice! This poster gives practical ways to support your students and their families.
Share your ideas – how do you support the families that you work with?