New approach to holding difficult discussions with parents may prove more effective
"The Feedback Fix" author Joe Hirsch details for Edutopia the importance of strong parent-teacher communication and the most effective feedback strategies.
The “praise sandwich” is a common way to frame negative feedback, but such feedback may be more effectively expressed as a bundle approach that provides specific context, observations, emotional ramifications, and the value of student behavior, inviting input from parents.
This strategy helps defuse the tension of the situation and invites a positive, productive discussion about what both parties can do to help address the situation.
Positive and effective parent-teacher communication can have a great impact not only on classroom culture, but also on student success. In a 2012 Harvard graduate study titled “The Effect of Teacher-Family Communication on Student Engagement,” the authors found that “frequent teacher-family communication immediately increased student engagement as measured by homework completion rates, on-task behavior, and class participation. On average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%.”
The study also identified three primary mechanisms through which strong parent-teacher communication affected student engagement: the development of stronger teacher-student relationships, increased parental involvement, and improved student motivation.
However, teachers — especially beginning teachers — often fear direct contact with parents because they are not sure how to handle the situation. Because parent-teacher relationships are so important, this may be an area in which it would be good for administrators to include in professional development time. Not only could administrators provide new strategies (or review old ones) about how to handle these situations, experienced teachers could offer seasoned advice and perhaps even role-play situations to help new teachers become more comfortable in these encounters.
One important strategy is to keep parent-teacher encounters as positive as possible. In another article, Hirsch elaborates on the idea of providing “feedforward” rather than feedback. “Feedback, by its very definition, is focused on the past, which can't be changed,” Hirsch said. “Feedforward looks ahead at future possibilities that still fall under our control. Feedback tends to reinforce personal stereotypes or negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward looks beyond what is in favor of what can be.”