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    How Teachers Can Better Talk to Parents About Independent Thinking

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    How Teachers Can Better Talk to Parents About Independent Thinking

    For the past few weeks, you have felt great about yourself as a teacher.

    Last year, you lectured to your students in class after class. Most of your students seemed uninterested and almost never volunteered to say anything when you tried to start a class discussion.

    During the summer, you discussed your desire to discard the traditional lesson plan that you used during the school year with the chairperson of your department and other teachers and administrators. They were enthusiastic about your desire to formulate a lesson plan that would be designed to improve your students’ independent thinking skills.

    Now, the lesson plan is working.

    During the first week in class, about five students were active in class discussions and enthusiastic about your homework assignments focusing on independent research and group projects rather than reading and memorizing textbook chapters.

    By the second or third week, about 10 students were active in class and showing that they were trying to be independent thinkers. Now, about two-thirds of your 25 students are active learners.

    Today, though, you hit a roadblock. The principal told you that a parent of one of your students had just phoned her.

    The parent complained about your lesson plan. “My child needs to learn more facts so he can do well on standardized tests and get into a good college,” the parent told the principal. “This teacher’s lesson plan is designed to turn my child into a rebel instead of a disciplined student with better grades.”

    The principal also informed you that the parent told her that she was going to contact other parents about your lesson plan and, perhaps, contact school board members about it and discuss the issue at a public school board meeting.

    You worked very hard at formulating a new lesson plan during the summer, but you launched it without any input from parents or any plan to get them involved in your effort to help their children grow intellectually.

    Parents are obviously around their children far more than you are so they can be your allies in your independent thinking lesson plans, but they can also undo all of your hard work if you don’t reach out to them and convince them that your plans will work.

    Here are 10 tips that will help you and other teachers communicate with parents about the necessity of their children developing independent thinking skills.


    10 Tips for Discussing Indpendent Thinking

    1. Solicit Their Advice
    2. Utilize Their Advice
    3. Contact Via The Syllabus
    4. Share Your Research
    5. Detail Your Objectives
    6. Be Positive About Each Child
    7. Get Parents Involved
    8. Invite Parents Into Class
    9. Use Social Media
    10. Be Flexible

    1. Solicit Their Advice

    You can take 100 Education courses, talk to 50 Education experts, and formulate lessons for months, but your expertise and work could be useless without parents’ help. You should solicit the advice of parents before introducing an independent thinking lesson plan.

    Talk to parents of children you have taught who have younger children in your future classes. Conduct an independent thinking skills seminar for parents. Write about the topic on your school’s website. In all these scenarios, getting tips from parents should be a priority.

    2. Utilize Their Advice

    The point of utilizing parents’ advice is not to be patronizing. You need to build a rapport with parents to make your lesson plans more acceptable. Imagine how happy parents will be to see their ideas in your lesson plans!

    Having a reputation as a good listener who is concerned about parents is better than being known as a teacher who wants to impose his or her ideas on students.

    3. Contact Via The Syllabus

    The first day of class is here. The reality is that you have still not communicated with many of your students’ parents. As you hand out the syllabus to your students, you should encourage them to share it with their parents. In fact, the syllabus should include a clearly labeled “Message To The Parents.” 

    The message should emphasize that you are trying a different approach in your classes this academic year. Encourage the parents to contact you with questions, suggestions, tips, etc. Make it easy for them to contact you.

    4. Share Your Research

    Many parents will be skeptical about any new approach to learning. Thus, you should be as transparent as possible about why educators believe lesson plans that foster independent thinking skills will help their child more than the traditional lesson plans.

    The syllabus should include the titles and website addresses of material you have studied. Show that many colleges have changed how they evaluate prospective students. They rely more on achievements such as leadership positions at and outside school, community activities, writing skills, and speaking skills.

    5. Detail Your Objectives

    Your syllabus should detail the objectives of your lesson plans. You want your students to be more creative and imaginative, better speakers and writers, more skilled at research, more determined to work until they complete their assignments, better at working with people, more capable of questioning and challenging ideas, and more apt to solve problems on their own. Your syllabus should list several independent thinking skills and include a promise to send the parents progress reports on their child’s progress in each of the listed skills.

    6. Be Positive About Each Child

    Be as specific as possible. That means taking detailed notes on each of your students during class. Write down when this student asks a good question or that student makes an excellent point about the assignment.

    When you communicate with parents, you should first list three positive things about their child. That might mean listing three areas where they have improved their critical thinking skills or just be a list of three good things they did in class or on a homework assignment. Then, list areas where they can improve -- constructive criticism.

    7. Get Parents Involved

    You can’t force parents to, for example, help a student research a topic, but many parents WANT to help their children with their homework. The syllabus should detail opportunities for parents to work with their children on assignments.

    This gives them a chance, for example, to see whether their child has the determination to find relevant information rather than accepting the first available info or giving up when there is a roadblock.

    Parents should see firsthand whether their children have or are developing adequate independent thinking skills.

    8. Invite Parents Into Class

    Tip No. 4 mentioned that colleges are more likely today than in the past to choose students who have demonstrated independent thinking skills. Many are also less apt to emphasize standardized test scores. Parents are very aware how problem solving skills and other independent thinking skills are crucial in the workplace. Thus, you should utilize them in class presentations.

    They can talk about their jobs and how writing skills, speaking skills, leadership skills, etc. helped young people get jobs and then be successful enough to make a good living.

    9. Use Social Media

    Giving parents as many opportunities as possible to share their ideas and questions is integral to a successful teacher-parents relationship. The school’s website, a teacher’s blog on the website, the school’s Facebook page, and a more specific Facebook page for your department are ideal places to start conversations about independent thinking skills.

    You should write about the topic and post others’ blogs about the topic. More importantly, you should encourage parents to communicate with you about the topic of independent thinking skills.

    10. Be Flexible

    Don’t argue with parents. If they feel that independent thinking skills lesson plans are not for their children, you should do what you can to give those children more conventional assignments and grade them on more conventional assessments of what they learned.

    Every child is different. That’s part of the appeal of independent thinking skills lesson plans that give students an opportunity to read a book of their choice, make an oral presentation on a topic of their choice, etc. Letting students choose a traditional lesson plan can be part of that flexibility.

    Hopefully, the above tips will help you communicate with parents but it’s important to note that there is one tip that is way, way more important than any other tip whether the list of tips is five, 10, 50, or 100.

    Here’s that very important tip—LISTEN.

    Most people aren’t good listeners, but the question is how do you become one? First, you have to care about what the speaker is saying. Secondly, you have to be patient. Beyond this, there are lots of other tips that will improve your listening skills.

    Good luck!

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Nov 2, 2017, updated October 5, 2021

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