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One of the most significant challenges for any teacher, online or offline, is that of classroom management. When it comes to online teaching, we may also have the added presence of the parents hovering around their children during class. The presence of parents can sometimes provoke anxiety in both the students and in us, the educators. Their presence also prompts the question of how to incorporate them into the lessons for the betterment of the students.

As a regular teacher in a brick and mortar classroom, there have been times where I have yearned for the parents to come and sit beside their children so they could actually observe their behavior and help me manage them better. On more than one occasion, I wished the parents would actually supervise their students’ homework and make sure they were actually doing it, instead of copying it upon arrival at the school. It has been a pleasant surprise to see the involvement of the parents in my online ESL sessions. They are often sitting just off-screen, whispering answers to their children or gently nudging them to pay attention when they start to drift off.

I have noticed, however, that parental presence in a classroom creates its own set of challenges. Here are my tips for effective classroom management while involving parents:

Classroom management is tricky when the parent attends class with the studentAcknowledge the parents

Many times the parents aren’t aware that we know they are there. They whisper, they hide from the camera, and they try not to interrupt the class. It is helpful to say hello to them or to have the students ask their parents a question related to the material. Opening a little bit of communication with the parent can create a teamwork approach to education. The parents feel more confident in the teacher and can understand that we are all in it together for the best education possible for their children. Partnering with parents of another culture and in another language is quite tricky, especially in the virtual world, but we need to recognize that even the slightest show of cooperation between parents and the teacher increases the home learning and the cognitive development in children.¹

Listen to the parents

Many times, I will catch the parents correcting their kids’ pronunciation or grammar, and that clues me into the focus of the parents. I usually correct both of these, but if I get a glimpse into the mind of the parent, I know for sure on what I need to focus with that particular child. In online ESL education, we must remember that the parents pay for this service, and keeping them happy is of utmost priority. This differs quite a bit from regular obligatory education in that this is an extra-curricular, optional class. The parents have other options, so we need to deliver our A-game each and every time. Listening to their desires for their children can help us meet their expectations.

It is also critical to pay attention to the parents’ complaints or criticisms. While this is difficult and can hurt our pride, it can ultimately help to improve the student’s outcome at the end of the session. Parents can be extra emotional about their children’s education because it is their most significant investment and their children are their most important asset in life. With this in mind, we must learn to take a step back from the emotions of criticism and evaluate whether or not the criticism is valid. For example, a parent may complain that the class wasn’t good because of the internet connection; however, if it is their internet connection that is spotty, that is not really a criticism of our teaching style, but an indication that they need tech support to help resolve the issue. Whether or not the criticism is justified, look for ways to continually improve for the sake of the child and for the sake of the relationship.

Involve the parents when appropriate

Parents and classroom managementClass size when teaching online varies depending on the company or educational institution you work for. At ALO7, our classes usually involve three students at a time, so involving parents in class is not always feasible nor acceptable. If there is a moment to ask the parents a question, include them in a game, or have the students ask their parents a question, I believe this is conducive to the kids speaking English at home outside of their regular classroom hours. To take it a step further, I sometimes give my students homework to practice speaking with their parents if I know that their parents are aware of what we did in class and can practice with them.

Another reason to include parents in class is to assist with behavior management. For example, if you have a rowdy student in a class, having their parents nearby is useful for curbing the student’s disruptive behavior. You can involve the parents by actively interacting with them as part of the lesson or asking them for help with the child. Usually, the student will straighten up by just getting “the look” from their mom or dad, so it is beneficial with those particular students to have the parents sitting with them.

Ask For Assistance

There are rare times when the parents completely dominate the class. They speak loudly, correct their children, ignore the other students, and cause general disruption. While you may be tempted to reprimand the parent, it is best to let your company’s support team handle the issue. At ALO7, the support team is on-call during peak hours to handle these types of situations and are aware of the cultural nuances necessary to explain to the parent why their behavior is unacceptable in a way that a translation cannot sufficiently provide.

Perhaps in times past, there was an us vs. them attitude between teachers and parents, but we need to embrace the idea of teamwork and cooperation for the good of the children. This can be done through simple things like smiles and greetings and can be carried through to weekly reports and messages back and forth. All in all, make sure to create a sense of partnership with the parents to see the best results possible with your students.

1: “Head Start Impact Study and Follow-up, 2000-2015.” Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation | ACF. Accessed October 22, 2018.

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