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Get parents on side

Behaviour Management

Get parents on side

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

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Sometimes a quick phone call is all it takes to eradicate a behaviour that has been plaguing the class for months.

Many teachers avoid contacting ‘home’ – they have enough to deal with and who knows how parents* will react – some will be receptive – others might not be fans of the school system (or teachers) in general due to poor educational experiences during their childhood. New teachers tend to avoid communicating with home unless they desperately have to – it seems risky and opens the door to scrutiny.

A well-devised ‘home communication system’ (added to your documented and ever-expanding behaviour management system) is an important part of your overall behaviour management approach. Sure, the occasional parent can be a bit short, but the great majority will bend over backwards to support their children’s education – remember that they are more scared of you than you are of them. Given the opportunity, many parents would very much appreciate the opportunity to participate more actively. Teachers can ‘recruit’ parents to help with behaviour management and learning in general.

Given the opportunity, many parents would very much appreciate the opportunity to participate more actively.

Involving parents has been shown to result in distinct benefits for the student (Flay, & Allred, 2003; Flay et al., 2006). Calling home is the most effective strategy simply because it is cheap, quick, easy, helps to build rapport and a united front, and avoids potential misinterpretations that come with written messages. Also, teachers don’t know what they don’t know, and a quick conversation with home often leads to new insights and ideas (or root causes) that the teacher hadn’t even considered – you never know what might come from a 5-minute chat. Sometimes a quick phone call is all it takes to eradicate a behaviour that has been plaguing the class for months.

Hint: Research has consistently shown that working collaboratively with families helps to reduce behavioural issues (Epstein et al., 2008.)

Here are some pointers:

  • Use a communication book and keep it positive (at least 4 times out of 5) – concentrate on what the student did well as opposed to what he or she did poorly (use a ‘strength-based approach’).
  • Systematically call a few parents every week just to ‘touch base’ – keep it low-key and don’t spend the whole time venting about how horrible their child behaves. Ask how they are going, what strategies work at home, tell them about what you are trying to do, what works and what doesn’t. Let them know behaviour management is a means to an end – to achieving educational goals. Again, point out the positives so there is something to build from.
  • Don’t think that it’s the parents’ job to solve your behaviour management problems. They are not to blame for their child’s actions and decisions – but they can certainly help you.
  • Be clear and explain your goals as the teacher, the educational and behavioural goals for their child, as well as milestones, techniques, strategies and achievements so far.
  • Don’t only contact parents for ‘bad reasons’ – contact them now and then to say, ‘Johnny had a great day today so whatever you did over the weekend, do it again! If he keeps going like that, his academic work will continue to improve and I can’t wait to see where we get to by the end of the year.’.
  • Hold regular parent evenings (if the school doesn’t already) and be prepared (including making sure you don’t mix students up if you teach many different classes).
  • Don’t be afraid to invite parents for a ‘networking’ or ‘catch-up’ event – ask for volunteers who may want to cook their favourite dish (or a dish from their culture). Similarly, hold a presentation day/evening where students display their projects and give parents a tour of their school and your classroom.
  • Hang students’ work around the room – this is best practice for several reasons. First, students are proud to have their work publicly acknowledged. Second, it shows you are proud and approving of their work – it is a compliment. Third, it makes your room feel more like a classroom – it is ‘conducive to learning’ as teachers like to say. Finally, when students daydream and their eyes wander around the room – they might just read something educational!
  • Invite parents to excursions and incursions. If they have specific skills, ask if they want to ‘teach’ a mini-lesson now and then (e.g. a parent who is an accountant may teach money skills or some maths, a parent who is good at sewing might come in and teach clothing repair to a small group as a reward, etc.).
  • Get parents involved in behaviour plans – ask for their advice and input and try to ‘win them over’. Even though it is a behaviour plan, keep it casual, light, professional and positive.
  • Call for volunteer parent helpers to help out day-to-day (even in high school) and have parent days where you teach them as well as their children at the same time. Alternatively, use a ‘teach to learn’ strategy and have students teach their parents something. If parent helpers are used, be sure to provide pedagogical advice (strategies) such as best practice one-on-one instruction, questioning skills, how to circulate, the difference between task completion (not important) and concept understanding (very important), modelling, worked examples and so forth (Green, 2020).
  • Don’t assume that because a child is disagreeable or places no value on education, that his or her parents have the same view. Often these parents are experiencing similar issues with their child at home and would eagerly support your invitation to work more collaboratively (particularly if there are achievable goals in sight).
  • Be careful that contacting parents doesn’t lead to any form of abuse or neglect being inflicted on the child.

Hint: Contacting home has several purposes. First, it encourages students because parents provide positive prompts and rewards. Second, parents can apply pressure for their child to behave. Finally, the simple act of contacting parents (for any reason) is often enough to reduce or prevent behavioural issues – just knowing that the teacher regularly speaks with their parents can be more than enough encouragement for many students.

Generally speaking, the key to working with parents is to relax, keep it light, and to try and build a professional relationship – always be positive not combative. If you work together to solve problems, make sure you celebrate achievements together as well. For some parents, a 2-minute call home to inform them of their child’s small achievement will bring them to tears – it could be the first time in years that they have heard praise of that nature. Some positive news might come just when it’s needed. Plus, parents make great allies.

Hint: Calling home can also be a reward for students, not just a deterrent. Try walking into class one random day and saying, ‘I plan on calling your mum today Lachlan, so let’s have a good day’. The shock and panic on Lachlan’s face may be rather comical. This also lets Lachlan and all the other students know that the teacher has the confidence and willingness to call parents at the drop of a hat (this is called ‘reducing the school-home divide’). Students want to impress their parents and crave their approval – a simple call home can do great things for their self-esteem and increase their willingness to work harder in class.

*For simplicity, and because this is the term used by teachers day-to-day, the term ‘parents’ has been used to refer to all carers or guardians including grandparents, state-appointed guardians, step-parents and siblings, as well as dual and single-parent households.

References:

Flay, B. R., & Allred, C. G. (2003). Long-term effects of the positive action® program. American Journal of Health Behavior, 27(1), 6-21. doi:10.5993/ajhb.27.1.s1.

Flay, B., Acock, A., Vuchinich, S., & Beets, M. (2006). Progress report of the randomized trial of Positive Action in Hawaii: End of third year of intervention. Positive Action, Inc.

Epstein, M. H., Atkins, M. D., Cullinan, K. K., & R. Weaver. (2008). Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom: A Practice Guide (NCEE #2008-012). National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Green, A. (2020). Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Adam Green.

About the author

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ADAM GREEN

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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