Families & the Community

Teacher-Parent Communication Needs to Improve, Studies Say

By Kate Stoltzfus — November 17, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Many K-12 teachers nationwide want parents to be more involved in their children’s classrooms. But it’s a two-way street, and as one recent study suggests, the frequency of how often teachers reach out to parents may depend on their race, ethnicity, or immigrant status.

The study, highlighted by my colleague Brenda Iasevoli on the Teacher Beat blog, shows that teachers are less likely to contact immigrant Asian parents and parents of color about accomplishments and less likely to contact immigrant Asian parents about poor behavior or academic struggles, even when students need help. On the flipside, math teachers are more likely to contact parents of black and Latino students about disruptive behavior—twice as likely for black students—than parents of white students.

While it is well known in the education realm that parent involvement in the classroom is a key part of students’ academic success, there has often been an emphasis on parent behavior alone when discussing the need for improvement.

More than 65 percent of teachers want parents to communicate regularly with them, according to a recent nationwide survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers by the University of Phoenix College of Education. And more than one in three teachers think parental involvement could help to improve teacher recruitment and retention. Yet 62 percent of teachers said only about a quarter of parents get involved in the classroom.

Studies have also shown that many parents of immigrant students don’t talk to their children’s teachers as frequently as U.S.-born white parents do. This is often because of language barriers or differences in cultural understandings, according to this latest study on teacher communication.

And there is now evidence that teachers’ own communication with nonwhite parents is affected by racial stereotypes, said the new study’s author, Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, a sociologist and an assistant professor of international education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

In an interview with Education Week Teacher, Cherng said his goal in flipping the lens to figure out when teachers reach out to parents was not to cast blame, but to figure out the best way to make improvements. As a former middle school teacher, he said, he knows how important parental buy-in is. But he also found the study’s results rang true in his personal experience as an Asian American student—his own teachers never once called home about his grades or behavior when he needed it.

So how can both teachers and parents begin to bridge the lack of communication to benefit all students in the classroom?

Pamela Roggeman, academic dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education and a former K-12 teacher, offered several recommendations for parents in light of the college’s parent-involvement survey. “Often parents think that to be involved in their child’s learning they need to spend time in their child’s classroom, but when you ask teachers, it’s often much more simple and boils down to one thing: communication,” she said in a statement.

It’s helpful for parents to identify the method of communication that teachers prefer—social media, emails, or written notes—in order to stay engaged and receive fast responses from educators. They should also stay up-to-date on classroom activities and ask for feedback about their children’s work and behavior to help with areas where students are struggling.

On the other hand, the answer to improvement for teachers lies in training, said Cherng. In teacher-preparation programs, race and ethnicity are often discussed as cultural competency or multiculturalism, but Cherng thinks the conversation should be in more explicit terms. “Race not only influences how teachers interact with minority students, but also with their parents,” he said.

While extra training can seem like a burden, “you want to know more about your students’ lives,” he said. “My mission is to train teachers so they are doing better in the classroom not only for their students, but for themselves. Particularly around issues of race where people can shut down immediately, it’s such an important conversation and should happen in a way that gives teachers skills.”

The increasing use of technology as a platform for parent-teacher communication is another effective tool some districts use. Apps like SchoolMessenger and Ready4K! target the parents of learners in pre-K through 12 with text messages and emails for news, curriculum, and keeping in touch.

Anabel Gonzalez, an ESL teacher in North Carolina, shared in a CTQ Collaboratory post that connecting with parents who do not speak English is vital despite the challenges it may pose for some teachers. Teachers should work to avoid assumptions, take time to learn about parents’ heritage and language, use standard English, and communicate with care and compassion.

“Reaching out to parents is not a once-a-year thing,” Gonzalez wrote. “Connecting with parents helps develop a valuable partnership that will undoubtedly benefit the student in the classroom.”

Photo credit: Getty

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community 'I Need You to Wear a Mask to Protect My Child.' A Mom Fights for Vulnerable Students
Some parents see a tension between their medically vulnerable children's safety and their educational needs during the pandemic.
8 min read
Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, who is medically at-risk, from being able to attend school safely. Juliana Ramirez, 8, a third grader at James Bonham Academy in San Antonio, Texas, has ADHD and severe asthma which puts her at risk of complications from COVID-19.
Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, 8, who is medically at risk, from being able to attend school safely.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Families & the Community Reported Essay Pandemic Parents Are More Engaged. How Can Schools Keep It Going?
Families have a better sense of what their child is learning, but schools will have to make some structural shifts to build on what they started.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Families & the Community Opinion How to Preserve the Good Parts of Pandemic Schooling
Yes, there have been a few silver linings for student well-being in the pandemic. Let’s not lose them now, write two researchers.
Laura Clary & Tamar Mendelson
4 min read
A student and teacher communicate through a screen.
iStock/Getty
Families & the Community COVID Protocols Keep Changing. Here's How Schools Can Keep Parents in the Know
Parents and educators shared best practices for effective communication related to the pandemic. It all centers on transparency.
6 min read
communication information network 1264145800 b
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty