Teachers: Avoid Burnout, Enable Equity by Managing Parents’ Expectations
By Vlada Lotkina
When parents and teachers work together, students win. As a 2018 report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York has shown in great detail, “family engagement is one of the most powerful predictors of children’s development, educational attainment, and success in school and life.” Nevertheless, a Harris Poll survey of over 1,000 teachers reported that 65 percent of teachers are seeing a parental involvement rate of less than 25 percent. Especially in under-privileged environments, teachers who struggle to connect with parents face intense discouragement, demoralization and burnout.
As demoralizing as a lack of parental involvement may be, education’s “dirty little secret” is that many schools don’twant parents to get more involved than they already are. Why? While a complete lack of participation is obviously detrimental to the learning process, less obvious is the fact that parents’ over-involvement can be just as damaging to students and teachers alike. Yes, we’ve always had ambitious parents with us, but recent scandals involving celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have highlighted the lengths to which some parents will go to manipulate the process on their kids’ behalf. While the vast majority are neither willing nor able to go to such lengths, recent research out of the U.K. shows that many are eager to reach out and grab their kids’ teachers at a moment’s notice—even when the latter are sick or on bereavement leave. This chronic parental overreach is causing some teachers to burn out and leave the profession.
On the one hand, teachers are encouraged to see parents take such an active interest in their kids’ education. On the other, they’re overwhelmed by the weight of parental expectations. All the while, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to manage the expectations of over-involved parents while engaging their under-involved peers. On either side, teachers face a crisis of ownership. To help their students succeed, they need to own the classroom component of a child’s education while encouraging parents to own their responsibility as well. Too little involvement and the child misses out on key reinforcement at home; too much and the teacher ends up spending more time communicating with parents than educating their children.
To truly facilitate learning, teachers can retake ownership of their side of the process by focusing on four elements of effective parent-teacher communication:
- Setting Expectations. Research has shown that frequent parent-teacher communication can increase homework completion as well as participation rates in the classroom. The key is defining what “frequent” means. If the teacher’s idea of frequent communication means a weekly email while the parent’s includes daily text messages, misaligned expectations will lead to frazzled phone calls and the pain of consistent parental pestering. Better for teachers to begin by telling parents when they can expect to hear from them and why.
- Proactive Communications. “No news is good news” no longer works in our digital age. In the commercial space, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have conditioned consumers to expect a near-instant response from brands and service providers online. Transmuted into the educational sphere, parents are being trained by their smartphones to expect an immediate response from teachers. According to the U.K. study mentioned above, 63 percent said they frequently receive work-related emails in the evenings, 55 percent before school, 58 percent on the weekends, and 45 percent during holidays. 55 percent say they’re made to feel guilty if they don’t respond.
- Personalized Outreach. To stem the tide of parental over-communication, teachers need to reach out on the channels where parents are most likely to receive and engage: text message, voice, web, mobile. In the age of push notifications and instant alerts, however, even something as seemingly advanced as a dynamic website may be insufficient. Recent efforts in personalized outreach are paying huge dividends in student outcomes.
- Technological Leverage. To meet the often-conflicting demands of parents’ preferred channels, frequency and language, teachers need a plan and a comprehensive suite of tools. Teachers across the country are increasingly using technology to help overcome the complexities of parent-teacher communication. Google Voice is a great choice for voice-based communications allowing teachers to keep their phone numbers private. There are a number of other free options purpose-built for the classroom, from Remind App for simple text-based communications to ClassDojo which also incorporates behavior management, to ClassTag which allows teachers to communicate according to parents’ preferences via email, sms or app notification in a language and frequency preferred by the parent automatically.
Jasmine Akauola, is an elementary teacher at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in Rahway, New Jersey. She has a Masters in Education and loves working third-grade. This Spring, Akauola decided to increase parental involvement. She picked her weekly Mystery Reader program as a great opportunity to build connections with families, and to show the children how much their families value education. In her first attempts, the parents did not participate. Everything changed, however, when Akauola started sharing early successes from these weekly sessions and then leveraged technology to allow parents to participate virtually via Google Hangouts and receive pictures and videos from the sessions in their own language via ClassTag.
With teacher appreciation month upon us, we celebrate teachers like Akauola who are in the classroom making it happen for their students every day. With a solid plan and a little technological help, teachers can turn parents into effective partners and, in the process, rediscover the joy of working together with families for the education of their children.
About the Author
Vlada Lotkina is the CEO and co-founder of ClassTag, simple free parent-teacher communication that just works, for everyone. She is a former Fortune 100 Executive, Wharton MBA graduate and mom of a 3rd grader.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.