Can Teachers and Parents Get Better at Talking to One Another?

The New Yorker

And, as kids get older, there may be value in nudging parents gently to the side of the conversation. An elegant 2013 study arranged for cohorts of sixth- and ninth-grade students to receive daily notes or texts from their teacher, who also made daily phone calls to the students’ parents. The regular check-ins caused higher rates of completed, on-time homework assignments and lower rates of disruptive behavior. One ninth-grade teacher observed that students were “more eager to appear vulnerable in class”—a minor miracle amid the tough-guy posturing that is native to the early teen years. But Matthew Kraft, a co-author of the study, said that the calls from teachers to parents left some of the ninth graders feeling rattled, perhaps because “reaching out to their parents undercut their own autonomy.” With older students, Kraft went on, “teachers might benefit from directly communicating with students first, or in conjunction with parents, instead of going over their heads.”

Kraft, who is an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, began his career in education teaching eighth and ninth grade in public schools in Oakland and Berkeley, including in a specialized classroom setting for kids at risk of dropping out of high school. There, he said, “I benefitted from smaller class sizes and the ability to invest time to get to know kids. That meant that I could make it a priority to communicate with families.” But manifold structural obstacles prevent most educators from creating the kinds of connections that are possible in a controlled research setting, Kraft said. Families may face language barriers. Schools often don’t have formal policies around parent-teacher communication, so expectations are unclear. Educators lack noninstructional time built into their day to make the calls and write the texts—elementary-school teachers may have thirty-plus students, and high-school teachers may have a hundred or more.


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