Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Will you be at NSTA 2011??

I sure will!!

Last year, several grad school colleagues and I presented research on parent-teacher-student communication via this blog and we were selected to present our findings at the National Conference in San Francisco.

Please feel free to come to our session on Saturday, March 13. More details to come and we will be collecting more data from our new schools…until then, feel free to read our data and conclusions from last year.

See you in March!


[TAR]: Initial Thoughts & Plan of Action

A bad parent-teacher conference:

Things to think about:

  • What are Kali?s strengths/weaknesses?
  • What is the parent trying to communicate?
  • What did the teacher do well in this meeting?

When our group began to investigate parents & the community, we unanimously agreed we were most interested in exploring the reactions of students, parents, and teachers towards parent-teacher communication. We approached our research in the steps outlined by the following flow chart.

In order to compile useful data and create helpful resources, we designed and implemented several surveys:

  1. Student Survey – are students aware of parent-teacher communication? How do they feel about it? Do students want parents involved in their education?
  2. Parent Survey – how often do teachers reach out to parents? How and when are parents involved in their child’s education? What could teachers do to facilitate more successful parental involvement?
  3. Teacher Survey – why is parent-teacher communication necessary? Which types of media are most successful for this communication? What advice would you give to new teachers regarding parent-teacher communication?

More on this topic:

[TAR]: Data

What follows is the data and conclusions we drew based on our surveys.


We handed out surveys to three classes of middle school students, including one class of 6th graders with a heterogeneous mix of special-ed and general-ed students, one homogeneous class of general-ed 6th grade students, and one heterogeneous class of  general-ed and special-ed 7th grade students. We also interviewed 7 10th-11th graders at a high school for recent immigrants in the Bronx. All subjects were asked the same questions, but the high school students were interviewed rather than asked to fill out a survey.We included the data from the 87 middle school students in our data summary, because there did not seem to be significant variation from the three classes, and will report our findings from the high school in the analysis below separately. The most significant difference between the three middle school classes was that the 7th grade responses to open-ended questions were slightly easier to categorize, because they wrote more in their responses. Below is the data accumulated from these surveys, with brief analysis and comparison to the high school findings included below each graph.

If a student left the “Why?” prompt blank, then their reason was not categorized. Above, “Discipline” is for any discipline or behavior related reasons for calling or not calling; “organization” is for any reasons that are grade-related, absence-related, or bureaucratic; and “positive” is for reasons that have to do with praise. The majority of students claimed that their parents had never been called by their teachers, and a number of them explained that this was because they “weren’t bad,” or because they were “always good in class.” Of the students that cited discipline related reasons for this type of parent teacher communication, the students who claimed never to have received negative phone calls from their teachers cited discipline related reasons even though the prompt did not imply that they needed to explain why. The high school students responded differently; 6 out of 7 of them reported having had a teacher call home more than once, and all at least once for a positive reason. One student explained that his English teacher had once called home to try to convince his parents to let him take part in an internship offered by the school, while another perceived a phone call home about his not having a school uniform as a positive reason for parent contact. It is also interesting to note that the method of communication between teachers and parents was exclusively by telephone; likely due to lack of internet or computer access in the parents’ homes.

Note that in the above plot, about 50% of middle school students who indicated that their parents had been called also indicated that it was for discipline related reasons. About 36% of middle school students  claimed never to have gotten a “phone call home,” cited discipline related reasons, despite the survey implying that they didn’t need to share this information.   Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that out of all 87 students, only 13 students actually indicated that their parents had received negative phone calls home. With only 13 students receiving these negative calls, and 35 students citing discipline related reasons for either receiving a call or not, it seems very likely that students perceive parent/teacher communication mainly as something that reflects poorly on them. This is in contrast to our high school students, who reported very positive feelings about having their teachers call home.

For parents calling teachers, the majority of students indicated that these phone calls were mainly for organizational reasons. Of the students that indicated discipline related reasons, most implied that it was because their parents were following up with communication that had been initiated by a teacher or principle. A little more than half of students (57%) indicated that they did have follow-up conversations with their teachers or parents about the parent/teacher communication. Of our 7 high school students surveyed, none of them reported having had a parent or guardian call a teacher.

It seemed from this open-ended question that some middle school students surveyed were referring to parent teacher conferences and not telephone calls or emails when they indicated negative feelings towards parent/teacher communication. This may have skewed our data towards the “weird/scary/uncomfortable” spectrum, but it seems consistent with the fact that students do seem to perceive parent/teacher communication as something that reflects poorly on them, as indicated by the 1st middle school survey results. In contrast, all but one of our high school students reported very positive feelings about their teachers calling home. They said they felt important, cared for, and motivated to try even harder in school. Students that had had teachers call home for discipline issues even recognized that if the teacher did not “care” about them in the first place, they would not have bothered to call.

Most students indicated their parents only came to school for parent teacher conferences, and many students indicated that their parents never come to school. This data seemed to be uncorrelated with student perceptions of their parent or guardian’s involvement with their education. One high school student interviewed reported that his parent had come to school once for disciplinary reasons.

When both middle and high school students were asked explicitly about their parent or guardian’s involvement in their education, most were satisfied with the current level of involvement, and liked the idea of their parents being involved. Middle school students reported feeling good about their parents helping them with homework, showing an interest, and everything that one would want from their parents. The high school students stated that even though their parents were unable to help them with their homework they also felt good about their parents showing interest in their education. A very low number of the middle school students, however, reported positive feelings about teachers contacting their parents. This could be due to the very low number of reported positive phone calls home in that group, and the correspondingly high number of disciplinary calls home. It is possible that the students in the middle school group associate teachers calling home with getting into trouble. Wanting parents to be involved in their education might therefore simply be a matter of connotation — the middle school students think of parent-teacher communication as being negative because of the way this dynamic has been set up in the classroom, but they still reported wanting their parents to be involved in their education; this suggests a positive identification with parental involvement. Further investigation as to what the middle school students would like that parental involvement to look like is needed.


When asking parents of 9th graders about Parent-Teacher communication, the data indicate mixed feelings from parents, likely due to the fact that their children are just beginning high school. The following four graphs reflect the most interesting findings from our survey.

Most parents noted that teachers communicate with them once or twice per year or per semester. This may be related to the fact that parents perceive teacher contact as a sign of their student’s poor grades or behavior, as they noted in other survey questions.

Overwhelmingly popular at this particular high school, the email communication system allows parents, students, and teachers to stay in contact about school assignments. The parents respond well to email communication and seem to feel connected to the class when the teacher sends email updates out to parents. Furthermore, parents seem to want teachers to communicate in a timely fashion. For example, parents want “Earlier feedback [from teachers] before grades permanently suffer,” and feel that “by the time [parents and teachers] have contact, it is sometimes to late to resolve an issue.”

One query investigated how often parents were invited to participate in school activities by members of the school staff (teachers and other faculty). While the parents were invited to participate fairly regularly, their actual time commitment to participate in school activities seemed to be low. This data indicates that the school does a good job of making parents feel welcome to come to class activities, but either way parents have a more limited amount of time that they are realistically able to offer to teachers and their child’s classes.

Finally, the parents surveyed were divided on the overall quality of parent-teacher interaction, with most leaning toward an unsatisfied feeling. This could from many parents feeling that a more individualized approach to parent-teacher communication is necessary to improve student achievement. They commented that teachers should send home written, personalized evaluations of each student. They also feel that the teachers do not communicate with parents enough about in-class lessons or examinations. Parents who seemed more pleased with the level of parent-teacher communication also comment that they are satisfied because their child is getting good grades in classes, thus parents and teachers do not need to be in contact.


Our surveys were structured to seek teacher advice on how best to communicate with parents, in terms of overall communication approaches as well the actual media for communication. There was a nuanced spectrum of data, which we were able to compile into a list of teacher tips that describes how to use various media for communication most effectively. Also this teacher guide includes some other general advice compiled from the surveys. Our surveys also inquired about frequency of parent contact, frustrations that arise when communicating with parents, and whether or not teachers invite parents to physically come in and participate in the class. 10 teachers from 4 different schools were given the surveys.

This data shows that these 10 teachers tend to call parents multiple times a week. Teachers mentioned that they called for various reasons, including behavior/conduct, academic performance (deficits and improvements), and organizational reasons (homework, upcoming tests, information gathering, dismissal plans, etc.).

The distribution of frustration is a bit of a wash, as it seems like teachers more or less either did not identify any problems in communicating with teachers, or they simply had their own individual complaints. In fact if one were to group the above data in terms of either mild or no frustration and perceptions of problems that are not directed at the parents, and frustrations that are directed at the parents, we see that half of the teachers see parents actions as the source of frustration, and the other half see any problems as being more circumstantial.

8 out of 10 teachers never invite teachers to actually participate in the classroom (i.e. come in and help assist the teacher, or even teach the class). One teacher indicated that they occasionally will have a parent come in to give a presentation or help lead activities, while another had recently invited a parent to come volunteer in the class. This is interesting merely in the context of our recent explorations of Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), where parent presence in the classroom is a central feature of parent involvement and communication in the culturally relevant context, as explored by the work of Gertrude Winston (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 161). This would be an important feature of parent communication to be followed up upon in future research.

More on this topic:

[TAR]: Conclusions & Reflections


From our data, it seems that most middle school students surveyed associate parent-teacher communication with negative organizational and discipline issues. This is supported by student comments while the survey was being administered; several students felt the need to assure the researcher that their parents and teachers do not communicate because they are not a “bad” kid. In addition, when asked to describe their reaction to parent-teacher communication, 41% of middle school students responded with the words “weird”, “scary”, and/or “uncomfortable”; fifty-one percent were ambivalent and only 8% had a positive reaction. This is in contrast to the high school students we interviewed; all but one reported feeling very positively about teachers calling home, even when it was for a disciplinary issue. Most middle school and high school students were content with the current level of parental involvement; students also viewed this involvement (homework help and interest in helping) as positive. Clearly, teachers and parents alike in the middle school classes we surveyed have allowed their communications with parents to be focused on negative behaviors and achievement, while parental involvement inside the home was positive and desirable. The high school from which we gathered data seemed to have a different approach and calls were made home often and for positive reasons. The students reported that this made them feel important and cared for, as well as wanting to try harder in school. From our survey data and research in published articles on the topic, it seems that both the frequency and topics of parent and teacher communication impacts students’ attitudes and feelings towards school in the high school case and parental involvement in their education.

Teachers showed overarching similarities in their ideas about parent communication, with a few indicators of some difference. Teachers drew upon their experience to assess different modes of communication for their applicability to different situations; some greatly preferred email to phone, while others disagreed. Together, the teachers’ feedback on these modes of communication could be assembled into a format useful for new teachers that will need to use various forms of communication to correspond with parents. 50% of teachers communicate with parents in some form several days a week, 20% communicate daily, 20% communicate monthly, and 10% communicate less than that. Frequency of communication seemed to be uncorrelated with perceived frustrations regarding communicating with parents, although it was observed that teachers that communicate most frequently tend to use email and telephone calls more often as a practicality.

Our parent surveys showed that parent-teacher communication is fairly regular, with 64% of parents receiving teacher contact once or twice per year or semester. Most parents receive email from teachers rather than receiving contact through other traditional or non-traditional media. Parents are regularly invited to be a part of the classroom community, however, they do not always take that invitation for whatever reason. Parents seem to be unsatisfied with parent-teacher interaction. Parents’ responses reflect a feeling of being “left in the dark” about student achievements and struggles in school. They suggest that teachers communicate more frequently with more specific advice for students.

A common theme throughout the teacher-generated Guide to Communicating with Parents as well as the research is to remain professional, open and honest and to work as a team with the parent(s) to better serve the student’s needs.  The guide discusses the three most common ways to be in contact with parents – e-mail, phone and in person meetings.  Certain student issues are better communicated in person rather than e-mail, while more minor day-to-day topics can help to keep parents involved through the use of e-mail and phone.  In addition to these three modes, there are additional ways to communicate with and involve parents in their child’s education including home visits and online blogs or class web pages.  While most in-person meetings between parents and teachers occur on school grounds, teachers can also arrange home visits with families to get to know them better and establish a better relationship.  This is especially helpful when parents are unable to attend school meetings due to their work schedules or do not feel comfortable going to schools. Some schools setup websites or blogs, such as edublogs, for their courses to keep parents updated on what their child is learning with posts of homework assignments, useful links, syllabi and class pictures.  Depending on how the teacher sets up the website and how often they update it, this can help to improve parental communication and involvement in their child’s education.


Because of the discrepancy between our middle school students reported high satisfaction with parental involvement and their reported negative or ambivalent feelings about parents and teachers communicating, further exploration about what these students would like that parental involvement to look like is needed. How are students’ perceptions of parent-teacher communication affected when most communication home is negative? Since the high school students surveyed reported feeling positively about encouraging phone calls home, how might this affect students’ attitudes and feelings toward school? If a positive phone call was warmly received by both parents and teachers, what sort of impact might a home visit make? Most of our teachers surveyed reported never inviting parents into school; how does the presence of a parent in the classroom affect students’ perceptions of parental involvement? Email was the most common method of communication between parents and teachers in the middle school we studied, but telephone the primary means of communication in the high school. How do the cultures of the students and demographic factors contribute to the frequency, methods, and reasons for which parent-teacher communication occurs?

More on this topic:

[TAR]: Student, Parent, and Teacher Surveys

Below are the surveys we developed from our action plan. Links to the data and conclusions are provided.


Given to bilingual, general education, and special education middle school students verbally and as a paper survey.

  1. Have your teachers ever called your parents/guardians? Y/N
    1. Why?
  2. Have your parents/guardians ever called your teachers? Y/N
    1. Why?
  3. What was it like to know your parents/guardians and teachers were communicating about you?
  4. Did you have a conversation with your parents/guardians or teacher afterwards? Y/N
    1. What did you talk about?
  5. Do your parents/guardians come to school? Y/N
    1. How often?
  6. How do you feel about your parents/guardians being involved in your education?
  7. How would you like your parents/guardians to be involved in your education?

See the results.


Given to parents of high school students electronically via email.

How often do your child’s teachers communicate with you? [choose one]

  • Once or Twice per year
  • Once or Twice per semester
  • Every Month
  • Every Week
  • None of the Above

What media do the teachers use to communicate with you? [choose all that apply]

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Blog
  • In-Person Meeting
  • Written Note Sent Home
  • Other [open ended]

For what reason do teachers usually contact you?[choose all that apply]

  • For student behavior problems
  • To discuss students’ academic success
  • To discuss students’ academic problems
  • To learn about you or your family
  • To invite you to participate in school functions
  • Other [open ended]

What more could teachers do to help your child succeed in school? [open ended]

How often are you asked to participate in school activities?[choose one]

  • Never
  • Rarely
  • Sometimes
  • Regularly
  • Very Often
  • Other [open ended]

How often would you prefer to participate in activities? [choose one]

  • Never
  • Rarely
  • Sometimes
  • Regularly
  • Very Often
  • Other [open ended]

Are you happy with the quality of parent-teacher interaction at your school? [choose one]

  • Yes
  • No

See the results.


Given in paper format to various content and special education teachers.

  1. How often do you communicate with parents? For what reasons?
  2. What types of media are most effective in communication?
  3. How do you have hard or frustrating conversations with parents? Can you give me an example?
  4. How often do you invite parents to participate in their students’ class? For what reasons?
  5. What advice do you have for a new teacher regarding communicating with parents and getting them involved in their child’s education?

The following survey was disseminated in order to develop the teachers guide to communication:

In what situations do you use the following modes of communication with students’ parents?

  • Phone? Sample way to start conversation/address issues:
  • Email? Sample way to start conversation/address issues:
  • In person meeting? Sample way to start conversation/address issues:

See the results.

More on this topic:

[TAR]: Recommendations for Better Communication and Involvement

As a result of all our research, group member Suzy compiled a fantastic resource to guide a teacher through communication with family members. The guide includes general suggestions, specific tips for communication, and who else to involve.

General Suggestions

  • School policy.  Check your school’s policy on communicating with parents.  Some schools have policies regarding what topics can be discussed over e-mail, phone, or in person.
  • Beginning of year.  Introduce yourself, in person if possible, in the beginning of the year to open communication lines with parents early.  This gives parents a face to your name and vice versa.
  • Be positive.  Always have something positive to say about the student when initiating communication with a parent.
  • Be prepared.  Have examples of student work.  Prepare your ideas for a plan of action and suggestions for student goals.
  • Listen. Some situations are not always what they seem.  Listen to students and parents so you are fully informed.
  • Confidentiality. Do not discuss other students or compare other students to the student’s parent you are talking with.

Specific Tips for Communication

  • Email – used only for less critical issues.
  • Phone – used for minor issues.
  • In Person – used for parent/teacher conferences and serious issues.

Each of these modes of communication should also be utilized to communicate positive student behavior and achievements as well as negative issues.

In addition to email, phone, and in person, teachers and parents can use blogging and twitter to keep in touch. Teachers and students can update a class blog or twitter account in order to keep parents, families, administrators, etc. in touch with what is going on in the daily life of the classroom.

Who Else to Get Involved

  • Some teachers suggest CC’ing other teachers, principal or any other relevant personnel, on e-mails for documentation.
  • Invite other appropriate school personnel to parent conferences for students when their assistance could benefit the student.
  • When agreements have not been followed up on or there have been no results, refer issue to principal.
  • When an issue arises that is beyond your ability as a teacher to respond to appropriately (i.e. suspicions of serious health related issues such as eating disorders, depression, etc.), refer to school social worker or psychologist.

In addition to this communication guide, we found a myriad of useful articles and research regarding communication and involvement of parents within their childs’ education.

More on this topic: