Students’ parents are not your enemy. They can actually be one of your most powerful allies. No, I don’t mean the “If you do that again I’ll call your parents!” threat of the overwhelmed teacher. I’m talking about getting parents on your side and using them as a force for good.
What if you could get parents actively involved? Motivating students at home, acting as a guide and participant when you’re not there, and making sure homework gets done?
Sounds impossible? Read on...
Step 1: Build Rapport
First, you need to get parents on your side. They’re normal people – busy, leading hectic lives but concerned that they want their kids to learn English.
Most of the service they’ve received previously from English training schools has been shoddy. I know that sounds like a massive generalisation, but it’s most likely true :-)
So building rapport with your students’ parents is actually pretty easy. Just make sure that you communicate with them as much as possible. It doesn’t need to be a 10 minute conversation every time, just a sentence or two before and after class to a handful of parents (no more than 5 minutes).
Be polite, be friendly, be yourself.
Don’t fool yourself, parents hanging out and waiting for their students to finish class always gossip about their children’s teacher. You’ll win amazing brownie points for building rapport (which is always a nice bonus when open day comes round).
Step 2: Educate
Once you’ve built rapport with the parents, it’s time to educate them. How you do this will vary depending on your school.
Ideally, your school with have a plan in place to educate parents already, starting with the sales team, and continuing with workshops and the service team.
Workshops for new customers with titles like ‘How We Teach Using the Communicative’, or ‘What to Expect From This Course’, or ‘How You Can Help Your Child Learn at Home’.
If not, then make sure when you have any formal contact with parents (e.g. open days, open classes) that you make sure they know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Enthusiastically teach them the process for how a student should go about learning English. They probably have a load of pre-conceived ideas from when they were students (i.e. the Grammar Translation method).
They may also be obsessed with data – how many words is my child learning per lesson, how many grammar structures, and so on.
One of the greatest favours you can do them (and their child) is to set the record straight. That way they won't crush all the joy out of learning a language for their child.
Step 3: Enlist
You’ve built rapport; they like you. You (or your school) has educated them how to really learn a language. They now trust you.
So now it’s time to start taking baby steps to getting them to make your job so much easier.
Start assigning homework that requires the students to interact with their parents. Over time, you can make the activities more ambitious, i.e. they take more ‘parent time’ to complete.
Here’s a list of suggested activities from least to most time intensive (for parents).
a. Buy More English Media
It’s so important that students have as much fun and enjoyable English media to enjoy at home. Yes, you can show them where to find free resources (music, games, videos) online, but you still can’t beat offline stuff. Show me a kid who reads English comics at home for fun, and I’ll show you a future fluent English speaker.
Make sure parents know this, and ask them to regularly ‘treat’ children – be guided by what movies / books / stuff they want to do in English.
b. Asking Parents Questions
This one is great if the parents speak English, but it can still work if they don’t. Have the students prepare a questionnaire for their family based on the class topic. Then they have to interview everyone, summarise and report back. On a side note, this also gives them great future business skills!
c. Teaching Parents
Another classic is asking the students to teach their parents what they’ve learned today in class, using the same methods (where appropriate). If the parents speak English, they can check and correct if necessary. If not, they’ll learn something!
If you’re feeling brave, you can tell parents that you’ll talk to them in the target English next time you see them (or even during the next open class!)
d. Playing Games with Parents
If the parents can’t speak English, the student will have to teach the parent first. But then, assign a pair work game that the students have played in class to play for twenty minutes.
So there we have it! A simple, easy way to start improving your students’ English, make your job easier and improve your teaching reputation, all in one go. You’re welcome :-).