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August 22, 2012

Keep lines of communication open with teachers, no matter what method

By Robin Ruehlen
C & G Staff Writer

In the age of social media, many parents are left wondering about the best and most effective way to communicate with their children’s teachers.

But experts agree that parents should not feel restricted to such electronic methods as email or texting only; rather, they should work to tailor their methods to the particular issue at hand.

Judith Pritchett, assistant superintendent for instruction at the Macomb Intermediate School District, said that despite the advent of the electronic age, the three main methods of parent-teacher communication are still out there.

“Phone calls, report cards and face-to-face communication are still part of the process — they aren’t going away,” she said.

“However, with programs such as BlackBoard and PowerSchool Parent Portal, parents are able to get up-to-date information on attendance and monitor grades just by logging in.”

PowerSchool is districtwide student information system that allows teachers to manage grades, attendance, tests, demographics, activities, courses and photos. The individual student information is password protected, so only that student and his or her parents can view it. Through this program, parents can also request weekly, daily or monthly reports on their students.

“The advantage we have with electronic is, we can get some pretty quick communication if we need it, versus the old sending a note home method,” Pritchett said.

“That still does go on, because some teachers and parents find that that’s what works best for them. At the beginning of the school year, most teachers try to find out the best method to communicate with each parent.”

In April, the National Education Association and Parenting magazine conducted a joint survey of 1,000 public school parents and educators that explored possible roadblocks to parent-teacher communication. Survey results revealed that nearly two out of three parents say their child’s teacher offers a supportive response to concerns when they are expressed, and teachers are willing to help resolve concerns; while nearly 80 percent of teachers consider parents to be supportive. And while 71 percent of teachers feel they hold enough conferences with parents, only 48 percent of parents agreed that two conferences per year is a sufficient number.

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen said in a press release that parental involvement is a critical component to student success.

“When schools, teachers and parents work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more,” she said.

“When parents and teachers work as a team, children soar to new heights.”

Laurie McCarty, assistant superintendent for instruction at Bloomfield Hills Schools, said she encourages open, two-way communication between teachers and parents using any and all methods available.

“This would be our expectation for all levels, from preschool through the 12th grade,” she said.

Pritchett said she is a firm believer in the use of email if parents need quick answers about classroom activities or simple yes or no answers in general.

“Things like, is gym still scheduled this week, or what time is the field trip?” she said.

“Teachers go back and forth a lot with parents for things like that. But if there’s a real issue or problem the student is facing that calls for some brainstorming, a face-to-face meeting with teacher is still the best. Try to see the teacher before or after school, or schedule something during the teacher’s prep time.”

Pritchett noted that it’s common for parents of elementary-age children to communicate with teachers on a weekly basis, or more depending on student needs.

“When the student reaches the middle school and high school level, you’re going to see a tapering off of that direct communication, and that’s normal. Kids want mom and dad to take a step back, and you should, from a developmental point of view,” she said.

“For a kid that’s having a fairly normal school year, there are things like ParentPortal to check attendance and grades, and parent teacher conferences twice a year. But if more serious issues develop, such as a long-term illness where the student is out of school for awhile, the parent would most likely communicate with the teacher on a daily basis.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robin Ruehlen at rruehlen@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1105.