-by Dan Jones-
Often students entering a flipped classroom are doing so for the very first time. It is not only the first time your students have ever been in a flipped classroom, but it is also the first time their parents have experienced a flipped classroom. It is so important to start off strong with parents, especially when their child will experience an education that is so different from the one they encountered as a child. It is a guarantee that parents will have a list of questions a mile long as their child enters your classroom. Our responsibility as their teacher is to make sure that we communicate with parents as much as possible, and that communication needs to begin before the first day of school.
It is vital to understand that the beginning of the school year is like the beginning of any new relationship. You must often communicate, be a great listener, actively seek opportunities to make compliments, and learn as much as possible about the other person. Don’t go into this new relationship blindly, though. You need to approach your first face-to-face encounter with as much knowledge as possible, and you need to provide parents with just as much information. Here are five strategies that will set you up for a strong, healthy, and positive relationship with the parents of your students.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
There is nothing that will strengthen the parent-teacher relationship more than great communication. In today’s fast-paced society that seems always connected to the internet, it is critical to communicate with parents using methods in which they are comfortable. As stated in the article 7 Effective Parent Teacher Communication Tips by John Halloran, “Do not assume that parents are all the same. Using multiple communication methods allows parents to hear from you in ways that work for them.” Provide parents with options for communication. There are apps such as Remind or Dojo that provide you a way to communicate a message directly to parents. If you have other places where you post things about your class (i.e., a blog, a website, a professional Facebook page), make sure to give those links to your students’ parents. Parents want to be in the know even through middle and high school. Last, but not least, keep in mind that some parents need a piece of paper that they can hang on their refrigerator. They need a hardcopy visual that they can reference.
Take the opportunity to share with parents the benefits of their child being in a flipped classroom. Because this is such a foreign concept to what most parents experienced in school, you’ll need to walk them through what to expect. The benefits to a student being in a flipped classroom are numerous, but you need to share them with parents. Imagine a parent’s expression when told that they don’t have to be the teacher at home, or that you are going to be able to provide one on one attention to their child every day in class. Explain how students will be able to learn at their own pace. (This doesn’t mean “no pace,” but a pace that matches the learning needs of their child).
2. Involve the Parent
A great way to learn about your students is to send out a Google Form to their parents. Within the Google Form, you can put in a video explaining what a flipped classroom is and provide even more details about how your classroom will function. Encourage the parents to submit questions that they still have about Flipped Learning and the upcoming year. This form can also be used to gather information that you typically would gather on Back-to-School night. Parents can complete contact information and other essential items within a Google Form. Here is an example of a Google Form that I send to parents: Form for parents of 7th-graders. This form is exceptional because everything they enter will automatically populate into a spreadsheet that you can use for many different purposes throughout the year. Parents can also communicate academic and personal goals they would like to see their child achieve. Because the students will be new to your class, you can also have the parents write a paragraph introducing their child to you (likes, interests, extracurricular activities, etc.). Parents will appreciate receiving this form before the school year because Back-to-School night will be more than you telling them about the class and filling out forms. It will be about addressing their questions and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Your videos will also be a way to involve the parents. Parents can get to know you through the videos. They will also see exactly what their child is learning in your class.
3. Step Back, Don’t React
Calling a parent to talk about their child’s behavior can be intimidating, but what can make matters worse is when you are the one getting yelled at and berated by the parent. When this happens, it is critical to take a step back and don’t react. Michael Linsin offers some great advice in his article, How to Handle an Angry Parent. He gives seven suggestions: listen, categorize, empathize, take responsibility, apologize, fix it, and follow up. Often when we just listen, we learn that the issue is based on a misunderstanding and other external factors that have nothing to do with you (you just happened to be there in the line of their frustration). Linsin’s list may seem like you are supposed to take the blame for whatever the parent is upset about, but it is the first three steps that are the most critical: Listen, Categorize, and Empathize. Gary Hopkins wrote an article for Education World titled Dealing With Angry Parents. In this article, he suggests that teachers listen and then listen some more. Listening allows you to repeat back to the parent what you heard and to ask for clarification. Hopkins also recommends empathizing with parents. Understand that you are both there because you and the parent want what is best for the child. Putting yourself in their shoes and asking how you would feel if it were your child could make all the difference.
4. Actively Seek Out the Positive
In an article by Natalie Schwartz What Do Parents Really Want From Teachers? she highlights that parents need to know that you and they are on the same team. Informing them about their child’s progress and behavior regularly means that you are not just calling them with negative information about their child. Parents want to know that you see the good in their child as well as the areas of their child’s academic strengths. Letting parents know that you notice the positives in their child helps to build a stronger unified front when difficult conversations need to happen. Parents will understand that you are not just “out to get their child,” but that you authentically care about the growth and well-being of the student.
A vital aspect of Flipped Learning that you will want to share with parents is that you can get to know their child due to the amount of time Flipped Learning provides. Because you can spend more time with your students, you will be able to know your students more deeply to understand how best to meet their educational needs. Rozinah Jamaludin, Siti Zuraidah Md Osman, and Siti Zubaidah MD Osman wrote an article titled The Use of a Flipped Classroom to Enhance Engagement and Promote Active Learning. In this article, they discuss how the relationship that teachers have with their students has a direct impact on the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement of the student. The more time teachers spend working with their students, the more time they have to build the necessary relationships to promote the most significant results.
5. Invest in the Child, Parents Will Love You for It
The time that Flipped Learning provides teachers allows them to get to know students on a deeper, more meaningful level. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D., and Lia Sandilos, Ph.D. wrote an article titled Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning. In this article, they discuss the impact of positive student relationships with their teachers and the role this can play in academic success. Rimm-Kaufman and Sadilos cite Gregory & Ripsk when they discuss the idea that when adolescents perceive their teachers are trustworthy people, they show less defiant behavior. If you invest in your students beyond the academics, parents will see your efforts as supportive and positive. Parents want to know that you care about their child when they aren’t around. Parents only wish the best for their child, and when you dig in and invest in their child, you are sending a strong positive message that parents can and will trust.
Flipping your class means that you are committing to investing in your students. It is essential for parents to know that you are providing students with an educational setting that challenges all students. They want to know that you are going to provide an education that is in tune with their child’s needs. True differentiation (where individual students have the opportunity to leverage their unique strengths) is made possible in a flipped classroom, and according to Abigail Bryant in her article, Differentiating the Flipped Classroom, differentiation allows students “to build confidence and increase [their] motivation.” Sharing this concept and approach with parents will grow their appreciation for what you are doing for their child.
Now that you are fully equipped to start strong with parents, you are set to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding your flipped classroom. Remember, this is a relationship, and every relationship takes work. You will need to cultivate continuously positive relationships with your students’ parents, but know that it is worth every effort.