Communicate with Parents in One Simple Step

The following is a guest post written by Jessica Balsley who teaches art near Des Moines, Iowa.  Find her blogging at The Art of Education and follow her on Twitter.

Parent communication is a very important job for art educators.  It is our job to educate, inform and communicate with parents about our discipline.  Too often, parent communication can be difficult when you are a specialist.  The classroom teacher inevitably has more contact with parents.  Why do we feel so disconnected with the families of our students?  Maybe it’s because we see so many students in one week.  Maybe because we don’t see our students every day or perhaps because the parents are not making the effort as much to be involved in the arts education of their students by reaching out to their art teachers.  However you look at it, the amount of parent contact and communication can easily be zero to none if neither party is making the extra effort.

Why is it so important to foster parent / teacher relationships?

  • It’s the parents who will advocate for you, support your program and the arts.
  • Parents will help to make those home connections with the arts that support the teaching and learning going on in the art room.
  • Over time, parents will begin to see all of the important learning that is going on in the lives of their students and they will start to enrich that learning at home.
  • They will begin to see that an education without the arts would be very dull.
  • They will begin to enjoy and remember why they enjoy the arts and help instill this in their kids.

So, how, you might ask, do we accomplish all of these wonderful great things when the reality of most of ours situations looks something like teaching at two or more schools with 500 or more students and contact time that seems to creep lower and lower each year?

The Itty Bitty Papers!  One of the most important ways I communicate with parents is very simple, but yet very effective. I call them the “Itty Bitty Papers.”  Put very simply, I glue a little piece of paper with a message to the back of the artwork that explains the concept or standard we are studying. It might also contain how the project was assessed or what specific standards were graded during this grading period. It could also talk about the artist we studied or how the concept connects to other disciplines.  Anything to prevent parents for looking at the artwork and saying “This is pretty” and quickly dismissing it. I want them to realize – Something really happened while your student was making this! They learned something! They went through and artistic process!  If I can open up this window for families even a little bit more, I feel I am doing my job.

Another great thing about putting messages on the back of artwork is it helps the students to remember what they learned.  My elementary art teacher did something similar, and knowing I wanted to be an art teacher, I kept all of my elementary artwork. I still have most of these pieces and could remember what I learned and why it was important in my artistic development.  Someday all of the little kiddos you teach will pull out a tub of artwork to display at their high school graduation.  With your help, they just may have a nice little memory about elementary art because of your message.

To prepare the messages, I simply type out the message I want to convey and copy and paste over and over onto one sheet. Then, I slice them up on the paper cutter and put them in a little basket.  Each basket goes on a grade level shelf ready to go on the back of artwork once the project is completed.

Maybe you have seen this idea, thought of this idea or are already doing something like this.  They key here is consistency and to have them on as many projects as you can!  I use glue sticks to attach the messages because it does not make the art wrinkle up like runny glue does.

If starting this task seems daunting to you, don’t worry. Start small.  There are many different ways to accomplish putting message on the back of artwork.

  • Have students glue the messages on the back of their own artwork when they finish the project in art class.  This is the method I use the most, and my students are very well versed in doing this, although it does take some time.
  • Have a volunteer glue messages on the back (works great for the younger grades)
  • Make this a station for any students when the finish early-They can sit down with a pile or artwork and glue away.
  • Have students glue them to the back of artwork on the day you pass back all of the artwork before you take it home (I call this portfolio day) It keeps hands busy and gets the entire job done in one shot.

In one simple step, that takes a matter of minutes, you can more effectively communicate with parents and make those important connections home! They next goal for me is to create mini-rubrics, self-assessments and reflections to go along with these messages.  These glued to the back, I think, would provide an even richer experience for my art students!

I would love to hear more about ways you all communicate more effectively with parents in the art room!


  • November 29, 2010


    Great idea! I have started doing something similar. I have started having my 6th – 8th graders attach artist statements directly to their projects. The statements include a brief description about how the project connects to the work of the artist we studied and has to include the vocabulary they learned, in context. They also have to reflect on their success with the project. I think it makes for a richer experience and will remind them in years to come of what they learned “back then”!

  • November 29, 2010


    That’s a great idea … you’re probably teaching the parents something about art at the same time!

  • November 30, 2010


    Kudos… so important to educate the parents along with the students..

  • November 30, 2010

    Tara Conover

    I have had to change my ways since I hold onto art until March at our art show, but when I use to send things home I would make labels (almost name badge size) on the computer with the objectives and basic directions and then stick them on the back of each project. I would leave room for a comment that I could hand write on before they went home. Older kids could help stick the generic labels on the projects and then I could write in comments. It worked like a charm because I didn’t have to use any glue or cut anything!

  • November 30, 2010

    Jessica Balsley

    Tara- Love the idea of printing the messages on sticky labels! This would save me and the kids a step of passing out those glue sticks. Even if you don’t hand back art until later in the year (I save mine, too) it makes a nice conversation piece when the art does go home! Thanks for your feedback and comments

  • December 2, 2010


    Great insights. Teachers should always communicate with their students parents. They can also share information about the child to improve learning skills.

  • December 2, 2010


    Great article Jessica!

  • December 3, 2010


    I have never heard of itty bitty papers but I will be starting to use them next semester. I’m so excited! What a great art advocacy tool along with helping kids remember what they learned.

  • December 5, 2010


    A third-grade teacher once saw me using this method to communicate with students/parents about the work. She asked why I wasn’t using labels. I hadn’t ever thought of that.
    Granted, labels are more expensive than gluing on paper, but I started putting labels in my budget. I would print a scoring checklist and info. about the assignment on labels and have the students put the label on the back of the work and fill out the checklist. Worked great for me.

  • December 17, 2010


    This is a great idea, I’ve done something similar for my toddler class. What can look like a scribble out of context is explained by letting the parents know what we discussed while making the artwork, what materials we used and how this artwork shows a step in development. This way parents can see that I had a reason to place things in the portfolio.

    I was writing it individually on each artwork and then realised how long this was taking when I was mainly writting the same thing so I would type it ups and cut it out to stick down.

  • February 5, 2011

    Mark S

    As a parent – I love having notes like these. I also love to keep the artwork and save it (I have two huge bins in my basement – one for each of my kids). I plan to give them all their art and cards back when they are older so they can see all the great things they did as kids. Having notes from teachers makes it even more valuable – especially if there’s something about my child on the note…

    Great idea!

  • […] to have good writing skills.  Good writing is key to effectively advocating for your art program, communicating art concepts, and sharing ideas with colleagues. New media, from blogging to tweeting to collaborating on […]

Leave a Reply

nine + = 14