The Acorn

A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers

Volume 1, issue 7 * March 27, 2019

Growing, Nurturing, Developing, and Supporting

"The Acorn" is a newsletter for the cooperating teachers working with student teachers from the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. This publication is intended to help our cooperating teachers understand their roles and responsibilities as well as provide them with current research and best practice on working with student teachers.

Parent/Guardian Communication and Interaction--- Helping Student Teachers Gain Footing

This week’s feature article is a departure from those previously published as the focus is on a recent topic of discussion during student teaching seminars—parent and guardian interaction. Understanding and using best practices in communicating, working, and dealing with parents is a challenge for the most veteran teacher, so it should not be surprising that student teachers have concerns, questions, and some fears regarding their roles and responsibilities to their students’ parents.

In our conversations at evening student teaching seminars, student teachers noted their age, inexperience in the classroom, and the fact that they are not parents themselves as reasons for feeling trepidation regarding parent communication, particularly in situations where students were struggling or demonstrating negative behaviors. Preservice teachers often have “misconceptions about, and not enough experience with, families during their undergraduate training experiences” (Baum & McMurray-Schwarz, 2004, p. 58), and that can certainly contribute to the feelings they are experiencing at this time. More concern arises for new teachers and preservice teachers when their belief that parent communication is marked by “conflict and criticism” (Baum & McMurray-Schwarz, 2004, p. 58) or when the communication and parent involvement they believed would be present falls short (Ferrara & Ferrara 2005; He & Cooper, 2011). Regardless of age, experience, or parenting status, discomfort or fear is certainly normal—no one likes to deliver bad news. Unfortunately, for many student teachers, that is the only way they view communications with parents and guardians. They do not see the range of purposes for communication between a teacher and the child’s family. Veteran educators know the responsibility educators have to communicate with parents and guardians about all aspects of a child’s school experience. So, for student teachers to have the opportunity to learn through experienced mentors and in real-life situations across the range of communication means and purposes can help student teachers feel more at ease as they develop their own communication styles and practices as future educators.

The current literature on the importance and development of relationships with parents is overwhelming, and that research overwhelmingly reports the significant correlation between parent involvement in school and student success. We know that “student achievement improves when parents are able to play a key role in their children’s learning” (Ferrera & Ferrara, 2005, p. 80). One factor that is frequently noted as contributing to that success is the communication that exists between parents and teachers specifically focused on student learning and achievement. While we may hope that all of our communications with parents celebrate learning and achievement and are positive and productive, that is simply not the case. Communication with parents and guardians is a complex topic that requires thought, practice, and reflection. With that in mind, current practitioners can model and guide preservice teachers in the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will help them to be successful in building relationships with and working with their students’ parents (Baum & McMurray-Schwarz, 2004).

At this point in their experience, most student teachers have had the opportunity to interact with parents and guardians during conferences or meetings, through emails or phone calls, or in casual conversations. These experiences have brought questions on how to most effectively present themselves, how to address parent/guardian questions or concerns, and how to communicate regarding student academics and behaviors. Student teachers’ questions were as diverse and complex as the situations they are in. One student inquired about how to deal with a parent who demands grades/feedback to be recorded and shared with them immediately after assignments are submitted. Another inquired about what to do when a parent swears at them. One student wondered how to move conferences along when the parents of a successful student won’t leave the conference table. Still another student wondered how to communicate with parents for who do not speak English when there is little assistance with translating at the school. And, sadly another student inquired on what to do when a homeless student with no apparent parent/guardian contact has significant academic and behavioral concerns. Wow! This is a lot!

As veteran educators, we can help our student teachers employ the same tools we use with them in creating positive rapport with parents: showing empathy, carefully choosing our own words, actively listening, demonstrating supportive nonverbal behavior, and maintaining objectivity (Henry & Weber, 2016, p. 39). We can also help our student teachers to remember to extend the same respect they show their students to their parents, “no matter how they behave; otherwise, we won’t be able to work productively with them to help their child” (Whitaker, 2004, p.27). Additionally, we can use Ferrara and Ferrara’s Parent Toolkit (2005) and tips from Whitaker (2004) to share ideas on regarding parent/guardian communication.

Toolkit Elements:

*Understand parenting situations (home environments that support children as students)

*Communicating with parents (best means; when, where, and how; struggles and celebrations; dealing with difficult situations)

*Building bridges and engaging parents in volunteering

*Provide ways to help children at home (preventative or post-conference ideas)

*Engaging in decision making (assistance in addressing difficult situations; working with IEPS, 504s, and other learning plans; building assets); and

*Collaborating with the community (identifying and integrating community resources to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning).

Whitaker’s suggestions on how to get parents on your side:

1. Make a special effort at the beginning to reach out to parents/guardians.

2. Capitalize on their eagerness to assist in any way.

3. Make parents/guardians feel welcome and accepted.

4. Tap into their talents and interests.

5. Give them options on ways to help out.

6. Open lines of communication early

7. Listen to parents

8. Call them when there is trouble

9. Ask for assistance, be specific.

10. Give specific ways they can help their children at home.

And, I might add…

11. Get to know parents as people

12. Ask how parents see their child at home

13. Communicate the positive more than the negative

14. Ask parents for help with challenges regarding their children

15. CARE about their children!

This is such an important part of what we do as educators. Minnesota teacher preparation standards highlight the importance of being able to develop relationships and communicate with parents, guardians, and families of students. MN Statute 8710.200, Subp. 11. Standard 10, collaboration, ethics and relationships states: “A teacher must be able to communicate and interact with parents or guardians, families, school colleagues, and the community to support student learning and well-being.” More specifically, teacher candidates must demonstrate that they can “understand how factors in a student’s environment outside of school, including family circumstances, community environments, health and economic conditions, may influence student live and learning (Part B) and “establish productive relationships with parents and guardians in support of student learning and well-being” (Part K).

I encourage you to take time to work with student teachers with this very important part of teaching, and I thank you in advance for mentoring on this challenging and complex topic.


Baum, A.C. & McMurray-Schwarz, P. (2004, August). Preservice teachers’ beliefs about family involvement: Implications for teacher education. Early Childhood Education Journal. 32(1), 57-61.

Ferrara, M.M. & Ferrara, P.J. (2005). Parents as partners: Raising awareness as a teacher preparation program. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas. 79(2), 77-82. DOI: 10.3200/TCHS.79.2.77-82.

He, Y. & Cooper, J. (2011, Spring). Struggles and strategies in teaching: Voices of five novice secondary teachers. Teacher Education Quarterly. 38.2.97-116.

Henry, M.A. & Weber, A. (2016). Coaching a student teacher. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Whitaker, T. (2004). What great teachers do differently: Fourteen things that matter most. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, Inc.

Big picture

Weeks 13 & 14--Cooperating Teacher Expectations

In Weeks 13 & 14, student teachers are established in their second placements.

Elementary educators should be teaching nearly full-time these two weeks, working toward full time by the end of week 14.

Secondary educators should be teaching all but one class of the cooperating teacher's load by the end of week 13.

During these weeks, student teachers should be observed and given feedback on goals that are set by the student teacher (see The Acorn, Volume 1, issue 4).

Students who have elementary teaching with endorsements should be transitioning in weeks

What are the areas of focus for the cooperating teacher in the next few weeks?

*Continue providing mentorship and feedback for your student teacher.

*By the mid-point in the student teacher's placement, complete the Mid-Placement Evaluation Form. Go over your commentary with the student teacher. Then, email a copy to the university supervisor.

*Conduct ONE formal observation using one of these forms:

Student Teacher's Instructional Evaluation

Student Teacher's Observation and Disposition Evaluation

(Please forward the emailed copy of the observation to your student teacher's university supervisor.)

*Discuss communication ideas and strategies with your student teacher.

Enjoy your time with your student teacher!

Resources We're Using

There are a few resources we are using in our student teaching seminars that have been helpful to us for practical and pedagogical purposes. While you may be familiar with them and use them professionally, I wanted to share them with you.


edPuzzle--making videos interactive and engaging

flipgrid--video creation and group sharing

SeeSaw--student assignments become portfolios for parent communication/sharing

Insert Learning--an annotating and text-chunking tool available as a Chrome extension

Screencastify--a Chrome add-in for short video creation

Grammarly--a Chrome add-in for immediate, live grammar correction

Newsela--news articles presented with leveled reading and interactive options (powerful in building background, creating interest, and addressing current events)

Professional Resources:

Scholastic--thousands of resources (in addition to book clubs)

Edutopia--founded by George Lucas; innovative approaches to k-12 education

TeachHUB--lessons and shared resources

TeacherToolKit--engaging techniques for teacher improvement

Cult of Pedagogy--a site dedicated to practitioners who are "committed to making you more awesome in the classroom"

Annenberg Learner--teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

The Teaching Channel--teacher resource on diverse topics and ways to help learners grow

Submissions Welcome!

Submissions to this newsletter are welcome from stakeholders in the CSB/SJU student teaching process. Send copy, pictures, etc., to Jennifer Meagher at

CSB/SJU Education Department

Jennifer L. Meagher, Ed.D.

Director of Elementary and Secondary Student Teaching