How to get parents on board with your big changes

Parents can be our biggest ally for reaching goals with kids. Here's how you can get them on your side. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Parents can be our biggest ally for reaching goals with kids. Here’s how you can get them on your side. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

As teachers, we work hard to get our students on board with what we’re doing in class.

We try our best to relate everything to their lives in the real world. We help them to see the big picture. We praise them when they succeed and encourage them when they stumble.

But if the students are the only ones we’re getting on board, we’re still missing half of the equations.

The other half? Parents. (Or grandparents or guardians or whomever the main caretakers are.)

In my own experience in the classroom (and in yours too, I’ll bet), we have an uphill battle if parents aren’t convinced of what we’re doing in the classroom. (Or if they’re not convinced of the value of education in the first place.)

I’ve seen kids torn between what the teacher tells them is important in class and what the parents are saying at home. Both sides usually think they have the students’ best interest at heart.

And when push comes to shove, who will students side with — their parents or the teacher?

Let’s try to avoid that confrontation all together.

Instead, what if we can get the parents on board, too? What would it look like if we had them as advocates at home, cheering their children’s progress and supporting our shared academic goals for their kid?

In writing our book, Ditch That Homework, Alice Keeler and I are finding something that is a bigger deal than we expected.

Many of the parents that like the idea of homework do so because it helps them feel involved in their children’s education.

They say that the assignments their children work on at home help them relate to their lives at school. They say that it helps them feel involved and active in the education of their children.

Our thought?

Sending worksheets home is a rotten way to help parents feel involved.

It’s a topic that we spend a whole chapter on in our book — how to get parents involved, keep lines of communication open and find ways for them to support learning at home.

(By the way, if you’d like to receive updates on the book or help out by contributing ideas to it, become a Ditch That Homework VIP by clicking here!)

It all starts with buy-in. How can we align the vision of parents and teacher so they’re both on the same team — rooting for shared goals for the child?

Alice and I share some ideas for having those initial conversations with parents to help them to buy in to what you think is best for students.

In this example, we’ll use eliminating homework as the conversation. But the framework of the conversation can work with many parent/teacher topics.

  • Help them see your vision. Look into the future with them — a month, a year or a lifetime. Envision the change that you’re driving toward, and help parents to see it, too. If homework is the topic, ask them, “What would life be like if your child had less homework? What would you be able to do with that extra time?” Or, if you don’t want to ask, describe the vision in your own words. “Imagine life with less homework. You’re able to … You finally have time to …”. (Persuasion experts suggest that you not ask a question you don’t know the answer to, so if you’re unsure how a parent will react, try describing instead of asking.)
  • Share your heart. Let them know why you’re passionate or excited about this change. Show them that you’re convinced and confident. When you let your emotion show authentically, you reach those parents’ hearts.
  • Cite research that supports your decision. Research can go a long way to convince parents, even though many studies have their flaws and some areas don’t have a ton of useful research. Pick one or two studies that illustrate your point. Don’t get overly technical, and don’t inundate them with too much. Make your point clearly and simply. If they have follow-up questions, you may be able to dig in more in-depth. Otherwise, state your case and move on.
  • Point to your own experiences. Personal stories can be powerful. They help put parents in your shoes and shows them that you’re much like them.If you’ve seen the inadequacies or inefficiencies of homework as a teacher, as a parent or as a student, share them. 
  • Give them plenty of opportunity to talk. They may have questions. Answer them as honestly as possible, or let them know you’ll get them answers. (And then do it!) They may just want to talk — to describe their concerns, their fears and their own stories. Sometimes, a listening ear does more to convince than 100 valid reasons.
  • Don’t overdo it. Be concise. State your case plainly and then see what they have to say. We have all had someone make a lengthy, long-winded case to us when we had our minds made up in the first 30 seconds. Try to make it more a dialogue than a monologue.

Of course, this won’t work with every single parent. Some parents will have concerns that you won’t be able to allay. Some parents just won’t want to talk to you or will be impossible to reach.

But I think you’ll find that the net gain for your efforts will be worth the time and effort. You’ll find that your day-to-day work will be easier and met with less resistance if you have a key ally in place in sync with your message at home — parents.

There are LOTS of ways to reach the goal of shared vision with parents. If you’ve had experience with this and have some advice or ideas, I’d love to see them in the comments below.

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

  Date Event / Event Details City / More Info
+ 03/11/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Crystal Hills Elementary  
   Private Event
+ 03/13/2017
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Bishop Dwenger High School Fort Wayne, IN
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+ 03/16/2017—03/17/2017
MACUL Detroit, Michigan
  Sponsor:MACULPublic Event
+ 04/03/2017—04/04/2017
TeachTechPlay Melbourne, Australia
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+ 04/29/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Fox Valley Reading Council Peoria, IL
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+ 05/05/2017
9:00am-3:30pm
Ecorse Public Schools Ecorse, MI
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+ 05/06/2017—05/07/2016
CUEBOLD Lafayette, CA
  Venue:Burton Valley Elementary School
561 Merriewood Dr,
Lafayette, CA 94549
Public Event
+ 05/20/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
TXGoo17 Klein, TX
   Public Event
+ 05/31/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Summer Technology Institute Norfolk, NE
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+ 06/05/2017
8:15am-2:00pm
PowerED UP Conference Leopold, IN
  Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearning  
Venue:Perry Central Jr/Sr HS
18677 Old State Road 37
Leopold, IN 47551
+ 06/07/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Innovation Institute Springdale, Arkansas
   Public Event
+ 06/09/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Region 6 Digital Learning Conference Huntsville, TX
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+ 06/15/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Whatever It Takes Conference Galesburg, IL
+ 06/16/2017
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+ 07/25/2017—07/26/2017
Roughrider Education Services Program Dickinson, ND
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6 thoughts on “How to get parents on board with your big changes

  1. > Send a weekly newsletter that tells parents what you worked on this week in class. This helps them have conversations with their students. Parents out there know that if you ask a kid what they did at school that day, you’ll often get, “Nothing much” or “I don’t remember.” Give parents some talking points.

  2. Stick with it!

    When parents heard of how my class was not going to have 3rd grade people described a mutiny. I had told the students on the first day of school, but did not communicate to the parents until Parent Information Night the following week. I had several people tell me there were lots of families in my class who were very worried about my no homework policy. Before the actual meeting I had conversations with some parents I know were behind the so-called “mutiny”.

    These conversations cleared the runway for the actual meeting where we were talking about No Homework. During and after the meeting I (as well as the worried parents) was surprised by the excitement and support we had from the group as whole. If I would have backed down for some parents I would not have heard the voices of several parents who were in support of the policy.

    Worried parents came to me at the 1st Quarter Conferences telling me how shocked they are about how well the no homework policy has worked. One student is researching about the Big Bang and listening to talks by Stephen Hawking. Another parent is sharing complaints of how they can’t get their child away from the math game we use in school. Others are just hoping their other children’s parents will take the same stance on homework.

    I am extremely pleased with how the No Homework Policy has worked and I am looking forward to helping this movement push forward!

  3. I really love this whole concept and completely agree with the fact that parents are going to want to see research behind the decision. Would you mind sharing recent studies you are using in your justification for “ditching the homework?”

    Thanks so much! LOVE this blog BtW! We use it in our district constantly for relevant PD! You are our instructional & motivational heroes, Matt and Alice! Keep on inspiring!

    • Hi Sheila —

      There’s some research at this Google Plus community, run by my co-author Alice Keeler: https://plus.google.com/communities/113112787233071964999

      We’ll be sharing some research in our book, Ditch That Homework. However, research about homework is a slippery slope we must tread with caution. So much of it is flawed (i.e. based on correlating data instead of causation), and another issue is how it defines homework (i.e. mindless worksheets vs. stimulating activities). There are other factors at play, too, including support at home (education of parents, importance of education at home) … which leads to the level of help students can get when they struggle on homework (and how much the parents end up doing). I can go on and on …

      The bottom line, I think, is that we should know what research says but take a big-picture approach to homework where it’s one factor. Not everything that happens in a research study or a lab directly relates to the students we know well. And teachers need autonomy to do what they think is best. The focus of our book isn’t to bash homework, but to provide strategies teachers can use to reduce their reliance on homework until, at some point, they’ll hopefully be able to ditch it.

      Thanks for your comment and for your kind words, Sheila!

  4. Such a good article. I found in my classroom the more communication the better. I sent out a weekly email (every Friday) with what is going to be going on in my class in the upcoming week. This would give the parents time to prepare the conversations to have with their students over the weekend. Now with sites.google.com, I would have a website and still send out weekly email reminders but post my messages on my website so students and teachers could both be involved.

    Not all parents will get on board but when one comes to me upset about their child’s grades, it simmered the fire when I would say, “Do you get my weekly updates?” Puts the ball in the parent’s court.