The old adage “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” rings right along with the first bell of the new school year. A small investment at the onset of the school year will get you on the flight path of success with both students and parents, as you establish a co-advocate posture with your new class. It’s a cinch if you plot out a quick strategy for introducing yourself and establishing connections.
Once you get your class list, spring into action:
Obtain home addresses and write a personal postcard to each student in your home room.
Most years, I take the time to hand write these notes (a rare and treasured treat!) to each student. However, due to logistical time constraints, I have also run a warm, welcoming message through the printer, personalizing each with the address and greeting before printing. Parents have reported that these precious postcards received via “snail mail” were lovingly displayed on refrigerators, night stands, and dressers all year-long (and beyond).
Call every student the night before school
This was always a dream of mine to accomplish…more often than not, I wasn’t able to do it. But as long as they had that postcard in hand, I knew they knew I was excitedly expecting them.
Host a Before School Parent Meeting
- Love notes from parents
If you are lucky enough to have a parent meeting prior to the first day of school, give each parent a notecard or postcard for them to leave a “love note” for their child to discover on the first day of school. If parents are not able to attend this meeting, then write the love note from you (“I am so thrilled you are sitting at this desk! Your teacher last year told me you would be great at _____…” etc.). Every student deserves a warm greeting waiting for them at their desk on the first day of school, and parents will find it endearing that you cared enough to add this extra touch.
- Establish your email parameters
At the parent meeting, set up guidelines as to how you will answer emails as promptly as you can. I finally realized after stressing to hastily answer every email during precious, limited planning periods, it was wiser to ask parents to give me 12-24 hours to thoughtfully answer important emails, so I could give their concern my full attention. I was amazed how appreciative the parents were with this wait time as long as it was in their best interest! I also told them (although this often didn’t prove to be true), that I didn’t read school emails after 8:00 p.m. and to understand a response would be forthcoming the next day.
- Share your phone contact information
If you give parents your telephone number at your parent meeting (and I recommend you do), state your boundaries for what warrants a call to the teacher. There are legitimate yet rare situations that require a phone call, but I set up guidelines for “gentle” learning opportunities that I didn’t want to be called about (forgotten homework, etc.) or that could better be handled in a face to face conference. We discuss the benefits of students learning from small “knee scrape” mistakes vs. major broken bone type dilemmas. Parents get it! If they know they have your number for true emergencies, you will gain much in trust. It is rare that parents abuse my home phone number. (If you still have a land line phone number, I suggest using that rather than giving out your cell number. Parents tend to text you at all hours of instructional & home time.)
- Share your webpage, portal, or digital newsletter address
You need to have a dependable, 24/7 vehicle of communication in which a parent can verify or double-check daily or project-specific assignments beyond what the child has copied down in the homework planner. (Some teachers prefer to email parents a newsletter once a week. I preferred my newsletter approach but used emails when last-minute changes occurred.) I offered incentives for my parents to read my weekly on-line newsletter (extra stickers for rewards for students – I have great success with this!). Parents feel empowered/included/informed when you provide adult-to-adult information about what is happening in your classroom. Add photos, tidbits about the daily/weekly happenings, and be transparent with who you are!
Set up a class twitter account
A class twitter page is a great platform in which you can garner enthusiasm for the year ahead, showcase student work, and then share it with parents, grandparents, and people around the world. I have established cherished global connections of colleagues and friends via Twitter. Don’t overlook this powerful opportunity (but double-check constraints, parameters, and campus-specific guidelines from your administration). I found that as long as I didn’t list our school address, took side view or back of head-shots of students, and only used first names, that we felt “protected” from on-line stranger-danger.
Set up a class blog, and encourage parent involvement
Blogging is a powerful tool for student writing and interchange of ideas. Set your classroom blog up so that parents can reflect as guest writers. Nothing authenticates blogging more than discovering responses to a post!
Call every parent after the first day of school
Making these personal phone calls has always been a positive and powerful investment of time for me…these first-night calls are non-negotiable in my book. Not only do I get feedback on what the child reported on the first day of school (hilarious and affirming information!), but I can validate how important their child is to me. I sincerely state something like, “I knew I was going to enjoy your child, but I didn’t realize how special they were until today.” A heart-felt statement like this validates that you recognize they are entrusting you with one of their most precious possession, and that you agree with them. Regardless of how little Johnny might have tested you on Day One, I bet you can find something positive to report. If not – well, perhaps you’re in the wrong profession! If you get an answering machine, leave the message. I can guarantee that the message will be saved and played over and over. Realistic, positive feedback from the first day of school opens the door for trust when you have to make those “other kinds” of phone calls…
Parents, students, and colleagues love and thrive on effective communication all year-long. The initial investment in August will have a lasting impact on your ability to promote what is in your students’ best interests.
Simply put…Have a Great Year!