Dear Parents: 3 tips for ‘recruiting’ parent advocates for your robotics class

We have all probably seen stories of high school athletes receiving dozens of offer letters from college programs. These stories often contain examples of college recruiters writing letters to prospective athletes. Any college coach will tell you that recruiting is one of, if not the, most important thing that they do. While I was still teaching, I would reflect on these stories and sometimes ask myself, “Who am I trying to recruit?”

The first and most obvious answer is students.  Student engagement is a key to learning, and building a relationship with the students in your classroom can go a long way toward creating a productive classroom climate.

What is often more challenging for teachers is building that same relationship with parents. Unfortunately, the only time that many parents receive correspondence from school is to communicate bad news. When you were in school and a parent told you, “I talked to your teacher today,” what was your immediate feeling?

Building a strong relationship between communities and schools is an important part of many schools’ strategic plans.  While other industries offer many examples of how to effectively communicate with stakeholders, teachers are often left to figure this out on their own. Classroom teachers who belong to a grade and/or a department can often work together to engage parents and the community.  However, if you are teaching something like educational robotics, you may be the only person in your department. Additionally, students can’t take their robots home. These factors combine to make the challenge of building a relationship with parents more difficult.

With all of this in mind, here are three easy tips that you can begin incorporating immediately to begin “recruiting” parents as advocates of all of the great things you are doing in your classroom.

  1. Use social media.  Nothing is better than the buzz of a classroom as students are engaged, enthusiastic, and enthralled with a classroom activity.  Wouldn’t it be great if more people could see that? Sharing the great things that are going on in your classroom is a great way to engage with parents and other teachers.  Of course, make sure you’re adhering to your school’s social media policy when posting anything online.  
  2. Designate time to make positive phone calls home.  I began doing this after my first few years of teaching, and it was one of the best things I ever did.  When making these calls, you’ll need to work past the parents initially thinking something is wrong, but once that happens, the response you’ll get from the parents is tremendous.  The phone call should be short, choose 2-3 positive things to share about the student. Another benefit of doing this is that when you do have to make a phone call home because there is a problem, that call should go more smoothly.  When I was teaching I had a rule that the first time I talked to a parent, it would not be the result of me calling home with a negative issue.
  3. Send letters home to the parents.  As you gain experience teaching, you’ll become familiar with particular lessons, units, or topics that students find challenging.  Why not share that information with parents? Or, if you are about to do a fun activity, share that as well. Most parents want to talk with their children about what is going on in school, but they are working from an information deficit.  Parents will appreciate the information because it will improve their communication with their children. With our VEX STEM Labs, we’ve included a letter to send home for each STEM Lab. For example, click here.

I get it.  You’re busier than ever, and every day it seems like more things are being asked of you.  However, an investment made into strengthening relationships with parents will help illustrate for them all of the great things going on in your classroom.  A strong relationship with parents will result in happier students and better grades.