MAT Blog

Preparing for Your First Parent-Teacher Meeting

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 9, 2014 1:18:38 PM

parent teacher meetingParent-teacher meetings can be nerve-racking, and for good reason: Unlike Back-to-School Night events, meetings are not informal meet-and-greets organized by the school. Usually they are the result of ongoing challenges with a student’s behavior or academic performance.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be excited to meet with parents under these circumstances, but with a little planning and a positive attitude, these get-togethers can be relatively painless and extremely productive.

To help you prepare for your first parent-teacher meeting, we’d like to share a few tips from Donna Tileston’s book, What Every Teacher Should Know About the Profession and Politics of Teaching.

Preparing for the parent-teacher meeting

  • Most parents and guardians work during the day, so you should plan on staying after school to meet with them. Avoid setting a rigid timeframe around your schedule and find a time that is convenient for parents. If parents are open to it, you might even offer to meet at their home.
  • Most of us like surprises, but not when we know the news is going to be unpleasant. Let parents know ahead of time what you wish to discuss and what your concerns are.
  • Ensure that all of your concerns can be verified. “I think” does not work well in parent conferences.
  • Gather data, records, notes, grades, test results, and any other information that applies to the conference.
  • If you plan to make recommendations for special services for the student, be sure to have the appropriate paperwork and guidelines. It would also be wise to invite the person in charge of special services. Again, be sure to inform the parents about your plans before the meeting happens.
  • Your student will eventually find out that you are meeting with his or her parents, so it’s best that s/he find out from you. Be brief and tactful.
  • If you are meeting in your classroom, make special accommodations for adults. Avoid having parents sit in tiny chairs or student desks.

Conducting the parent-teacher meeting

  • Most parents will be coming directly from work to this meeting. Offering them a beverage or small snack is a kind and welcoming gesture that may help take the edge off.
  • Avoid using teacher jargon—“an inch wide and a mile deep,” “depth of knowledge,” “building conceptual understanding,” and so on. This type of language is vague, esoteric, and means very little to parents.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • You may see all the signs suggesting that your student has special needs, but avoid making any diagnosis. You’re a teacher, not a doctor.
  • Do not compare the child to his or her peers, even if you are praising the student.
  • Keep in mind that parents have a right to be skeptical. Do not get defensive if they ask you questions like, “How do you know?” or “That’s not what s/he told me!”
  • Collaborate with parents to come up with a plan of action and put it in writing.
  • Following the meeting, call or email your student’s parents to thank them for coming to the meeting. And don’t forget to continue giving them updates on your student’s progress.

    The Reading Playbook, a teachers guide to success              

Tags: parent partnerships, Parent Engagement, parent teacher meeting

School Circle: A Free App to Help Strengthen Parent Partnerships

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 5, 2014 2:36:55 PM

Schooowl-badgel Circle may be the answer to one of our biggest “teacherly” conundrums: simplifying communication and solidifying relationships with our students’ parents. Here’s how School Circle works:

After creating your free account, you can send out invites to parents and use your dashboard to visibly track who accepted your invitation. If parents’ email addresses change or stop working, you’ll know it because School Circle will send you a notification. With this complete, you now have the ability to send messages, set up events, and share photos and documents with anyone in your “circle.” Pretty cool, huh?

parent-teacher communication




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Tags: parents, parent partnerships, Parent Engagement

The First Letter: A Simple and Effective Parent Engagement Strategy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 2, 2014 9:36:00 AM

parent_engagementImagine being a parent and opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s new teacher. In the letter, the teacher tells you all about herself, who she is, what she likes to do, how long she has been teaching, what she wants for your child and how you can contact her if you have any questions. You’d feel pretty good about this new teacher, wouldn’t you?

Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief (and thoroughly unexpected) letter to each student is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students. Below you’ll find a quick guide to help you draft your own letter to parents and students:

Format for the first letter to parents and students before school starts


  • Personalize the greeting
    Mention the student’s name within the body of the letter


  • Introduce yourself as the student’s grade level teacher
  • Share a little about your background and education
  • Include the essence of your philosophy of teaching
  • Ask parents to complete an attached questionnaire about their child

Contact information

  • School email address
  • School phone and extension
  • Best times to contact you
  • If you have a classroom blog or Twitter account, share this with parents
  • Invite parents to visit you in the classroom before school starts

Letter closing

  • Sign the letter with first and last name

Example of a before-school-starts letter to parents

August 1, 2014
Acme Elementary School
2220 Yellow Brick Road
Detroit, MI 48221

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:

As Jerry’s teacher for the upcoming school year, I am looking forward to getting to know you and working with you.

I started teaching at Acme Elementary in 2006 and have been here ever since! Prior to this, I studied at University of Michigan where I earned my degree in Elementary Education. After completing my B.A. in 2004, I moved to Tokyo, Japan where I taught English Language Learners, while at the same time pursing my Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College’s online program. Living and working abroad was an invaluable experience—not only did it allow me to work with students and hone my craft, it also gave me the opportunity to travel, learn about different cultures, and pursue two of my biggest passions: Japanese art and English Language Learners.

Just to give you a sense of what both you and Jerry can expect from me this year, I’d like to tell you a bit about our classroom and, very briefly, explain my philosophy of teaching.

During the first few weeks of school, I plan on setting aside a significant amount of time so that I can get to know Jerry and his classmates better. Every student is unique and has different interests and learning styles. I want to ensure that I spend an adequate amount of time learning about all of my students and having them learn about me. My goal is for our classroom to be a community of learners based on mutual respect for all individual differences. I want both you and Jerry to know that our (not my) classroom is a safe environment where students are encouraged to share, learn from one another, and learn from me—just as I will learn from them.

If you would, please share information with me about Jerry by completing the enclosed questionnaire so that I may begin to plan to meet his needs and expectations.

I also want to let you know that you are both welcome to visit our classroom before school begins or at any time during the year. To arrange a meeting, all you have to do is contact me and we’ll set something up!

Lastly, please subscribe to our classroom blog and Twitter feed. There you will find information about volunteer opportunities, and different ways you can support our classroom. Even if you do not wish to volunteer in the classroom, I would encourage you to follow our class online. I like to post photos and updates about students and all of our classroom activities!

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. If you have questions, please contact me in one of the following ways:

  • Phone: 313 555-2555
  • Twitter:
  • Classroom Blog:


Ryan Thomas

Below you’ll find a series of questions to include in your student questionnaire:

  • What are your child’s interests?
  • What would you like me to know about your child?
  • What are your concerns, if any?
  • What is your child’s attitude towards school?
  • What has been helpful for your child in the past?
  • Think of your child’s favorite teacher. What distinguished him or her from some of your child’s other teachers?
  • How does your child learn best?
  • What additional help might your child need this year? How might I best offer this additional support?
  • What is your child passionate about?
  • What are some of his/her favorite things to do outside of school?
  • Would you like to schedule an informal conference to meet and/or discuss your child? If so, please indicate times that are best for you.

Photo credit: gbaku / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Tags: parent partnerships, student engagement, Parent Engagement

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult: 5 Tips for Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 7, 2013 1:03:00 PM

difficult conversationsChildren, especially young ones, are masters of difficult conversations. Why? Because they don’t have to abide by the same set of “rules” adults do. Many adults struggle to say “the right thing.” We also tend to waffle, euphemize and skirt confrontations because we don’t want to hurt the other person. Kids…oh no, not them. When they don’t like something or find it dull, they have no qualms about telling us all about it. Adults don’t have it so easy.

Difficult conversations and teaching are a package deal and because of that, we’d like to offer a few tips to help you take the “difficult” out of difficult conversations.

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult: 5 Tips for Teachers

Figure out what you want—and be willing to bend when you don’t get it
Have you ever watched that History Channel show Pawn Stars? It’s a reality show that takes place in a family-owned, Las Vegas pawn shop. After about five minutes, you’ll have a sense for how pawning works: The first thing the pawn shop clerk asks the seller is “What do you want for it?” If the seller doesn’t name a price, the negotiation ends before it even begins.

Herein lies the lesson: You can’t have a conversation or negotiate unless you not only know what you want, but are also willing to bend a little.

Be emotionally present
It’s absolutely true that we should be calm and collected before we have a difficult conversation, but that doesn’t mean that we have to leave emotions at the front door. To the contrary, difficult conversations become less difficult when we are emotionally present—or in other words, when we are just as in tune with our own feelings and experiences as we are with those of the other person. It’s a tired cliché, but if we truly want to break down barriers, we have to walk in the other person’s shoes.

No more blaming
Conversations often become difficult because we focus our energy in the wrong place: assigning blame. Blame is a lot like truth with a capital “T”: everyone has his or her own version of it and talking in absolutes produces little more than disagreement, denial and frustration.

People don’t like to be blamed, especially when they are—or feel—wrongly accused. Instead of blaming, find a way to talk about how, where and when things went wrong. Then figure out how you might correct them in the future.

Don’t presume that you understand the intentions of others
When we start talking about intentions, we immediately enter murky territory. We can’t speak for you, but most of the folks we’ve met can’t read minds, which means that the intentions of others are usually unclear. Don’t presume that you know why people do what they do or say what they say. Intentions are complex and making unfounded assumptions about them is a surefire way to sour a healthy conversation.  

Do not split your attention
Most of us have had a spellbinding conversation. Maybe it was with a spouse, partner or friend. What were you doing during this conversation? You probably weren’t fidgeting in your seat or glancing at your phone. Real conversations require both parties to be fully present, both mentally and physically.

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Tags: parent partnerships, parent teacher conference tips, classroom management, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, Parent Engagement

Enhance parent partnerships and capture your students in action

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 20, 2013 11:27:00 AM

parent partnershipsThis morning we came across keepy, a new app that allows users to capture photos and audio bits, catalogue them in their “digital keepsake box,” and share them with others. We thought this tool would be particularly useful for teachers, especially those who want to enhance parent partnerships.  

After you’ve taken a photo of your students' work or captured them in an audio snippet, you can share these artifacts with parents through email, Facebook, and Twitter. What makes keepy super cool is that you can edit all of your keepies directly inside the application.  

In addition to these features, the keepy catalogue system allows you to add your students’ names, location and the date your keepy was created. When you’re done, parents can "fan" your catalogue so they can see all your keepies and leave video comments on them.

Pretty cool, huh?


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Tags: parents, parent partnerships, apps for educators, Best Apps for Educators, Parent Engagement

Building a Partnership: 5 Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Mar 6, 2013 9:36:00 AM

parent teacher conference tips

Researchers continue to underscore what common sense has always told us: Parental involvement (or lack of) impacts student success. Since spring parent-teacher conferences are approaching—what better a time to build parent-teacher partnerships?—we thought we’d offer 5 parent-teacher conference tips to make your meetings as painless and productive as possible.

Building a Partnership: 5 Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

Discuss progress and growth
Always start by highlighting the student’s successes—and remember that they can succeed in ways that transcend books and GPA. How does the student interact with peers? Has the student demonstrated leadership qualities? What do you (and his or her peers) appreciate about the student? How has the student grown over the last eight months? Use specific examples when you can.

In addition to this, make sure that parents understand the learning goals and have access to data that identifies areas in which the student could improve.  

Ask questions
We may have spent the last eight months with our students, but parents have spent far longer with them—which means they know more about them than we ever will. Use parent-teacher conferences as an opportunity to listen and learn.

  • What is the student like at home?
  • How does she learn best?
  • Do the parents have specific hopes and dreams for her?
  • Does the student have aspirations that you might not know about?
  • What did the student like about her last teacher? What didn’t she like?
  • What learning strategies did this teacher use that worked well for the student?

Collaborate to find solutions
Parents know who is in charge, even if they don’t always agree with the way you run your classroom. Avoid telling parents what “they” should do. Instead, emphasize how “we” can collaborate to help the student improve and remain open to their suggestions.

Design a plan of action
Spend the last few minutes of your parent-teacher conference designing a plan of action with clear objectives. Write it down so that both you and the parents have a copy.

Stay in touch
Once you’ve created a plan of action, use it as a point of reference in progress reports and future meetings. And once a student has met or exceeded goals, continue to refine the plan. You don’t necessarily need to meet face to face to do this: Instead, try using Voxie Pro, an app that allows you to record CD-quality voice recordings on your phone and email them directly to the parents. To learn more about this, check out one of our recent blogs, Going Paperless: Podcasting Your Students’ Progress Reports.


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Tags: parents, parent partnerships, parent teacher conference tips, Parent Engagement

Going Paperless: Podcasting your Students' Progress Reports

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 19, 2013 2:01:00 PM

student progress reportsAs you know, students aren’t always the most reliable couriers. Sometimes “Friday” folders come back with a parent’s signature, sometimes not. Sometimes the progress reports were delivered; sometimes they were insert excuse here. On the whole, folders are a useful organizational tool; they’re also nice for strengthening lines of communication between you and parents. But we happen to think there’s a more efficient way to keep parents up to date on their child’s progress—one that might actually cut down on your paperwork and guarantee that your messages will be delivered.

Using Voxie Pro to Record Student Progress Reportsstudent progress reports 2
In lieu of a weekly evaluation or progress note for every student, what if you were to spend a measly $4.99 on Voxie Pro (bottle rocket), an app that allows you to record CD-quality audio files to your phone and email them directly to parents?

Your messages can be as long as you need, but 60 to 90 seconds should be more than enough time for you to:

  • State the student’s name along with the date
  • Briefly describe student progress, both socially and academically, over the last week
  • Offer suggestions for how the student can improve
  • Ask parents questions about the student and request that they call or email you answers

What’s wrong with handwritten progress reports?
Besides the fact that they’re so commonly “lost" or "eaten” by insert animal/person/thing here, there’s also the fact that many teachers have resorted to turning evaluations into vague checklists they can work through quickly.

But can we really boil our students’ progress, both socially and academically, down to “Outstanding,” “Satisfactory,” or “Needs Improvement?” We think not. On top of this, checklists offer little opportunity to share your personality or offer substantive feedback. Podcasting gives parents the opportunity to actually hear you. In fact, they can even create their own podcasts and email them back to you.

Podcasting your students’ progress reports is only one way to “digitally enhance” communication between you and your students’ parents. If you’re looking for other ideas, you might check out one of our recent blogs, 5 More Indispensable Classroom Management Apps. Pay specific attention to an app called Remind 101. We think you’ll find it useful. 


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Tags: parent partnerships, evaluate student performance, progress reports, Parent Engagement

Parent Partnerships: Are you managing challenging parents gracefully?

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 13, 2013 9:57:00 AM

Parent PartnershipsWhen was the last time you heard someone say, “And where were the parents?” or “What’s going on with parents these days?” There’s no doubt that social mores have shifted over the years, but ultimately parents today, just like parents 50, 60, even 150 years ago, still want the same thing: They want what’s best for their child.

That being said, we’ve all encountered “challenging” parents—and that’s never going to change—so here are a few tips, courtesy of educational leadership experts Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore,  to help you create parent partnerships and navigate these relationships with grace and poise.

Parent Partnerships: Are you managing challenging parents gracefully?

You don’t have to prove who is in charge
Who are the most effective teachers at your school? Think about this for a second. Chances are that these teachers share a common characteristic: They don’t feel the need to prove who is in charge. Now picture some of the less-effective teachers you may know or even have had as a student. How often do/did they feel the need to assert their authority? Constantly, right? And the more these teachers asserted their authority, the more students resisted it, yes? This idea applies to how you work with parents, too.

Resist the urge to be right. Likewise, resist the urge to be sarcastic or patronizing and most important, resist the urge to prove who is in charge. Parents already know you are in charge of your classroom and it won’t work in your favor to remind them. Instead, listen, model appropriate behavior and remember something: You may have different ideas as to how to achieve it, but they want what’s best for their child just like you do.

Allow parents to hiss—not bite
In their book, Dealing with Difficult Parents, Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore recount an old Bengali tale about a cobra who used to bite passersby as they made their way to the village temple. As time went by, more and more people were struck by the snake; eventually, people became so fearful that they stopped going to the temple altogether. When the master of the temple heard this, he used a mantra to put the snake into a state of submission. Then he spoke to the snake and made it promise never again to bite the people who walked along the path.

The snake kept his promise and life went on as usual. But it wasn’t long before the snake was being taunted and drug around on its face by mischievous boys. When the master of the temple heard this, he visited the snake and found him bleeding and nearly in tears…all because, the snake said, he had kept his promise to the master. After hearing this, the master replied, “I told you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”

Here’s the moral of the story: Parents who lash out, yell or insult us are “biting”—and we should always make it clear that abusive behavior is intolerable. However, we must know the difference between “biting” and “hissing.” When parents “hiss,” they are simply questioning the way we do things—and they are perfectly entitled to do so. Drop your defenses and listen. If you can distinguish between a “hiss” and a “bite,” and if you don’t feel the need to prove who is in charge, you should have no trouble keeping your head up and making your way to the temple as usual.

If you’re looking for a few more ideas for nurturing relationships with challenging parents, we recommend that you check out two of our other blogs, Parent-Community Education Programs Impact Student Achievement and Create parent partnerships by using 5 of the best apps for educators.


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Tags: parents, parent partnerships, Parent Engagement

Engage Parents Throughout the Year For Homework Success.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Sep 29, 2011 11:00:00 AM

engaged parent assisting with homeworkAt Back-to-School nights all across the country, many K-12 teachers take the opportunity to communicate their classroom and district homework policies to parents. Here are two perplexing issues for your consideration:


Despite our best efforts at clear communication, many teachers receive homework questions from parents in the days and weeks following Back-to-School night.  Prepare yourself well this year, to get maximum cooperation from parents and optimal results from your students.  

The US Department of Education hosts a site with helpful homework hints for parents:This site explains what teachers already know: homework, when used properly, offers students the chance to

  • review and practice what they've covered in class
  • get ready for the next day's class
  • learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials and websites to find information about a subject
  • explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits
  • extend learning by applying skills they already have to new situations
  • integrate their learning by applying many different skills to a single task, such as book reports or science projects.

Homework also can help students develop good study habits and positive attitudes. It can

  • teach them to work independently
  • encourage self-discipline and responsibility

In addition, homework can help create greater understanding between families and teachers and provide opportunities for increased communication.

Communication Creates Engagement

We encourage you to communicate regularly with parents. Some schools schedule several informational parent events throughout the year, in an effort to narrow the teacher-parent gap. Establishing a good rapport with parents by using routine, clear communication will make all the difference to you, if and when a problem arises.

To help get things off on the right foot, offer a variety of ways for parents to get involved. Not every parent can volunteer on-site during the school day, and not every parent can afford to buy items for the classroom.Think about off-site tasks or projects parents can do to help the class, and offer ways to volunteer that ask for nothing except the value of a parent’s time.

Send notes home and make phone calls on a regular schedule. Elementary teachers who write two notes or make two phone calls each school day will contact every child's parents at least once a month. Secondary teachers with larger class loads can follow the same schedule and stay in contact at least once a quarter. Remember to contact the parents when students are successful - don't call only to report a problem. Positive communication creates an environment of trust which pays dividends when there is a challenge.

Engaging parents plus assigning meaningful homework is a powerful combination that will add up to successful results for your students! We offer a Guide for Teachers with creative ways to extend your classroom for optimal success. We guarantee you’ll find new, time-saving ways to attack old problems!


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Photo Credit: Peter Gene


Tags: download, Classroom Climate, Marygrove MAT, Extension of the Classroom, MAT Program, back-to-school, Homework, Parent Engagement, Homework Tips,, district policies

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