Classroom Management Strategies: Positive Parent Contact

In 2004, a study was conducted by Losada and Heaphy on the power of positive connection in teams. The study was focused on business, but their findings have been applied to every kind of relationship from parenting to marriage to friendships. I’m here to convince you that these results also extend that to your relationship with the parents of your students.

Losada and Heaphy found that the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments is 5 to 1. Additional studies have even posited that the analysis of this ratio was a very strong determining factor for whether or not a couple would get divorced or remain married. Even though these results are fascinating, they are not surprising. No one wants to work with, hang out with, or do almost anything with someone who constantly criticizes. I’d be willing to bet that you already know where I’m going with this.

Applying the Ratio with Your Parents

Maybe you’ve completely given up on contacting parents when it comes to issues in the classroom? Not like they’ll do anything to help, you might think. Or maybe you’ll occasionally send an angry email as a Hail Mary in a desperate moment. Trust me, I was once exactly where you are.

For several years, I simply did not contact parents. I groaned when I saw an email from a parent in my inbox. I responded in whatever way I thought would get them off my back. I’m regret now all the years I wasted not working with my parents. We should be a team, and we can be!

Now, I know the secret to maintaining a relationship with parents that will result in helpful action on their end. I do my best to maintain the 5 to 1 ratio.

In any relationship, people will not respond positively when they only hear criticism from the other party. The parents of your students are the same. Fortunately, according to the research, the definition of a positive comment is relatively broad. Even little phrases like “I agree with you” or “Good idea!” are considered positive. Similarly, though, comments like “I disagree” are in the negative category.

I know what you’re thinking. Who has the time to contact parents five times for every one bad call!? I do not, and neither do you. In order to keep this endeavor manageable, I recommend embedding the positive parent contact in your regular classroom management strategy. Like it or not, you will have to spend some time and energy in order to develop an orderly classroom. Especially if you don’t have one at the moment. We can just fold parent contact into that process.

Suggestions for Incorporating Positive Parent Contact

There are a million ways to incorporate positive rewards for your students, as a quick Pinterest or Instagram search will show. You could require students to earn a certain number of positive points or enter a raffle with positive behavior tokens. I’ve seen a lot of very cute and fun ideas on the internet.

Regardless of how you decide to structure it, I find that incorporating positive parent contact as a reward for good behavior makes it a lot easier to follow through on. Usually at the end of the week, but randomly as well, I send out a couple parent emails for kids I’m especially proud of. Sometimes I talk about academics, but I usually focus on behavior.

I have a coworker who calls the parents right in front of the class at the end of the week. The kids go nuts. Most importantly, though, she reports this as a highly motivating strategy in her classroom. I can assure you. The effort required to increase your positive parent contact ratio will undoubtedly pay off.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

Why it Works

Classroom management gets easier when students learn that the adults in their life are a part of a cohesive team. Communication with other teachers and parents about how to best motivate a difficult student will minimize the opportunities that the student has to play two adults against one another. Keeping everyone in the loop when it comes to progress and goals will only reinforce to the student that the expectations are not negotiable.

Additionally, parents will be much more willing to come to your aid when they see you as an ally instead of an adversary. Parents are insecure about what they’re doing, just like us teachers. They want to hear praise that they’re doing a good job and affirmation that their child is a star! When you eventually do need to send that SOS message on a bad classroom management day, you’re going to find much more receptive ears on parents who have interacted positively with you a couple times before.

Students, too, love the chance to make their parents proud! As we’ve discussed in other installments, our kids really just want to be seen as good and worthy by all the adults they admire. Who could be higher on that ladder than a parent? Connecting your classroom expectations to an opportunity to make mom or dad proud is sure to be a motivating factor. Even the toughest kids want to be praised.

And, I’ve been saving the best part for last. Kindness is contagious! Spending a few minutes in your week reaching out to share compliments usually brings such a happy response from parents that it’s almost impossible for me to walk away from these interactions without a smile on my face. I’ll never forget the time a student came to my class after the weekend and reported, with a shy smile on his face, how “terrible” it had been to come home to proud parents after my email reached them. “They were kissing me all over!” he complained.

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Laney Lee
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Published by Laney Lee

I'm an American expat in Abu Dhabi seeking new ways to support teachers. I currently teach grade 7 science, run a Teacher Pay Teachers store, and am writing a book on classroom management.

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