Increasing Parent-Teacher-Child Communication for Beginning Teachers: S.O.S. Style

Melanie Stier, MS
4th Grade Teacher, Osakis Public Schools
Osakis, MN

Julie Backes, MS
4th Grade Teacher, Osakis Public Schools
Osakis, MN

Dennis Lamb, EdD (Primary Contact)
Associate Professor of Education
Southwest MN State University


Sharing and communicating with parents can be a very intimidating prospect for new or beginning teachers, especially when it comes to sharing or reporting about student work,  missing assignments, or behavior. Keeping parents informed about the progress of their child can pose to be even more daunting, if new or beginning teachers are not prepared or organized to share information systematically with them.

Creating a Student Organization System (S.O.S.) could become a valuable instrument new or beginning teachers implement that will not only impact parental awareness and involvement, but also provide ownership for the students. Communicating and sharing openly with parents about homework and school expectations, helping students stay on top of their work, and helping beginning teachers stay connected with both parents and students can bridge the communication gap that often exists.

Increasing Parent-Teacher-Child Communication for Beginning Teachers: S.O.S. Style

Parental Involvement
Parental involvement in a child’s academic life plays a huge role in a student’s success in school (Carter & Hauser, 1987). It is also considered one of the most powerful means for improving schools and for improving the satisfaction of parents and the community (Bauch, 1998). Children learn best when the significant adults in their lives – parents, teachers, family, and community members – work together to encourage and support them (Comer & Haynes, 1997). Not only is parent involvement needed for students to maximize their learning, but schools also need the support of parents to help strengthen the school’s image in the eyes of the community (Krejci, 2002). Knowing the importance of this issue and the positive impact communication between school and home has on a child’s education may be very intimidating for beginning teachers and cause them to struggle with communicating openly with parents about their child’s work completion, organization of projects and assignments, and behavioral issues.

Research studies indicate that almost any form of parent involvement appears to improve student performance, regardless of socioeconomic status, parents’ income, parents’ education level, whether or not parents are employed, or ethnicity. With high levels of meaningful involvement, there is a greater chance for improved student behavior, attitude, and attendance, as well as an increase in academic, social, and emotional development (Hein & Wimer, 2007). Effective communication can also result in improved parent attitudes, self-concepts, and parents’ confidence in their ability to be an important part of their child’s education (Parent Involvement, 2004; Cotton, 2001).

Barriers to Communication
Although the benefits of parent involvement are clear, many schools struggle to find effective ways to overcome the barriers of keeping parents informed. When there is a lack of communication between parents and teachers, some parents may approach the school with a defensive and angry attitude (Edwards, 2000). Parents should be made aware of what their child has for homework and any special reminders, such as upcoming tests, projects, or events. Parents also need to be more aware of concerns regarding their child’s behavior in school. There are times when a student has behavior problems that are not major enough to warrant a phone call home, but are not minor enough to just disregard or ignore.

Having a classroom communication system that would inform parents of academic and behavioral occurrences on a daily basis not only keeps parents and teachers actively involved with the child’s education, but it also provides avenues of collaboration that will improve the child’s chances of success both in and out of school (Berger, 1991). Educators and administrators must realize in today’s society that parents and teachers are more in need of each other’s support than ever before. Teachers and schools are experiencing a drop in community support and increasingly difficult working conditions brought on by reduction in school budgets (Swap, 1987).

Parents have many reasons for why they may not be involved in their child’s education. Many parents hesitate to become involved in school because they don’t have extra time, or they may feel disconnected, due to their own unpleasant educational experiences. Parents may question how their own talents could contribute to school or whether they have anything of value to contribute. Unfamiliarity with the school system and how they can become involved can also deter parents from being involved in their child’s education (Challenge, 2005).

Not only are parents intimidated by the thought of having to communicate with teachers, but teachers may also feel uneasy about communicating with parents. When communicating with parents, teachers may feel pressured to always have to say the right things in the eyes of the parents, administration, and other community members who may scrutinize their teaching ability. Many beginning teachers, in particular, may have concerns with being absolutely frank with parents. Dealing with parents is often intimidating for teachers, due to the pressures of keeping everyone happy. These feelings may cause teachers to minimize their correspondence with parents (Wadsworth & Remaley, 2007).

Methods of Communication
Many parents have the desire to obtain as much information as possible about their child’s education. However, many traditional methods of parent-teacher communication, such as website postings, telephone calls, notes in a child’s backpack, and newsletters, have not been completely efficient, timely, or effective, but are still used throughout elementary classrooms across the country (Carless, 2006).

We are now in an immediate information age, allowing teachers to utilize electronic mail (e-mail) as a method of communicating with parents. Very comparable to sending a note home as in the past, e-mails offer faster lines of communication with the ability to receive a quicker response. As with notes and assignment books, e-mail allows parents and teachers to have a written record of discussions. E-mail is an easy and convenient form of two-way communication between teachers and parents (Womack, n.d.).

Unfortunately, a lack of resources is a common barrier most school districts face, when trying to develop effective online communication with parents (Doering-Jackson, Estes, Gathright, & Templeton, 2007). Not all parents have access to a computer or have an e-mail account (Lindberg & Swick, 2006). Even for parents that do have e-mail, they may not be in the habit of checking it daily. In addition, the messages can be intercepted and erased by students (Strom & Strom, 2003). E-mails can be misdirected and forwarded to anyone. E-mails are often misconstrued or misinterpreted, due to the fact that the receiver can’t hear the tone of the message as intended by the sender. For example, the use of all capital letters or exclamation points can drastically change the interpretation of a message.

Effect of Parent Involvement on Life Skills
According to Anday-Porter, Henne, and Horan (2000), “Parents’ lack of involvement in their child’s academic life and in providing an adequate study environment can lead to student organizational problems” (p.12). Some of the issues involved with student organization are that the students are not alike in their ability to be organized, and vary in their ability to meet deadlines and manage time effectively. They also differ according to how often they use organizational tools to manage such things as supplies, schedules, papers, and/or due dates.

Educators believe that organizational differences among students can play a large role in determining how a student will benefit from educational experiences. It is also reported that a student’s ability to stay organized reduces the stress parents experience when helping their child with school assignments (Gallagher, 2003). The more active the child’s involvement in the organizational process, the more likely the child is to master, assimilate, and apply the organizational procedures (Greene, 2002). Disorganized children rarely function at a level commensurate with their ability, since they tend to be unprepared for class and often misplace materials and assignments. These counterproductive patterns established in childhood are likely to persist throughout life, unless the students are taught specific organizational techniques (Greene, 2002).

Along with organization being a valuable skill, it also teaches students to be responsible. According to employers and college professors, high school graduates rank fair to poor in the areas of work habits, such as being organized and on time (McEwan, 1998). When organization is consistently enforced, the students learn to unconsciously apply these organizational procedures because they have become routine. When accountability is encouraged in school, it carries over into the work place, home, and other areas of life.

Organization is not only essential to meet a student’s academic needs, but can also encourage him/her to flourish emotionally. When students are not able to find the correct materials or books, it may cause a feeling of defeat. A student who is well organized, completes tasks promptly, and manages time efficiently is more likely to have a healthy self-esteem (Molenhouse, Petsas, Somers, Spiller, & Thomas, 2000). As children acquire new skills, they build confidence and enhance their self-concept. Their academic accomplishments generate pride, which in turn stimulates the desire to attain additional skills and experience more success (Greene, 2002).

The S.O.S Model
One way to help support beginning teachers with communicating effectively with parents is to encourage them to create a Student Organization System (S.O.S.) for those students who lack organizational skills in their classrooms. Students who are habitually late turning in assignments, homework, or other forms of communication home with parents may be just the ticket for helping them stay organized and accountable.

This particular model consists of a day-to-day listing of each subject and space for students to record their assignments for each subject (see Figure 1). There is also a place for parents to sign each day. On the back of the form, homework and behavior records are kept, where the teachers, students, and parents could communicate with each other on a daily basis about missing homework, behavior, and other notes and/or reminders (see Figure 2). This form keeps all parties involved with academic and behavioral progress, or lack thereof, but most importantly, provides a system to help keep students on task and on top of their responsibilities built into their school routine.

Research supports providing routines for students not only benefits their role in the classroom, but creates a system in which parents are consistently informed as to the happenings in the classroom. There is less chance of communication breakdown, and the students saw that there was a unified front between home and school, as it related to staying on top of homework and assignments. The incentives provided to help students stay successful in their daily lives shifted their perceptions about themselves and influenced their own awareness about their role in their academic success.

Having a parent-teacher-student communication system can be very beneficial to all involved. Helping students stay organized and on-task, helping parents stay informed, and helping beginning teachers with improving communication between home and school allows all stakeholders to own the process. Creating this type of communication system not only keeps the students involved in the organizational process, but it helps the students become habitual in their efforts of staying connected to their work and routinely sharing it with parents. This process can turn a distress signal of “S.O.S”, into a successful S.O.S. - Student Organization System, where everyone will be sailing on smooth waters!

Figure 1. S.O.S. Form (Front Side)
Reading: ______________________
Spelling: ______________________
Math:  ________________________
Grammar: _____________________
Science: ______________________
History: ______________________
Other: ________________________
Parent Signature: ______________

Note: This would be replicated for each day of the week, Monday-Friday).

Figure 2. S.O.S. Form (Back Side)

My Homework and Behavior Record Sheet

Student Name:

Behavior or






Missing Homework






Late Assignments


















Parent Notes to Teacher







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