As kids head back to school, it’s important to start off parent-teacher relationships in the best possible way. Take a look at our guest blog post from educator Daina Lujan about ways teachers can communicate effectively with parents.
I recently spent a Saturday morning in a cozy coffee shop with my friend, sipping coffee and catching up. After our goodbyes, I drove home smiling, thinking about our time together. Although the visit with my friend was brief, our conversation was a beautiful gift.
Framing time and conversations with others as a gift has shifted my thinking about parent-teacher communication. All too often, important messages between educators and parents are lost in the busyness of work, lesson planning, attending to student needs, child care coordination, and meal preparation. Given this, it’s no surprise that educators who try to catch a mom or dad at pick-up to discuss their kid’s rough day are often greeted with harried or rushed responses.
As a parent and an educator, I’m constantly switching roles throughout the day and trying to squeeze in time for a meaningful conversation between items on my to-do list. By shifting my perspective and appreciating the opportunities I have to chat with teachers and parents, I’ve developed communication guidelines that make the most out of every conversation.
Tips to strengthen parent-teacher communication
Every teacher knows that it’s essential to build relationships with students’ parents—communicating regularly, informing them of class policies, and scheduling appointments with them to discuss important matters. Beyond these general rules of thumb, what specific steps can you take to strengthen communication with class moms and dads?
- Chat with parents during drop-off and pick-up. Taking the time to say hello, ask about your students, or even express enthusiasm about upcoming events helps establish a rapport with parents before any formal meetings. That way, when a problem arises, at least you will have spoken briefly with the student’s parent, decreasing tension and starting the conversation off on a more collaborative foot. Be sure to be prepared for your day before drop-off to take advantage of this time with parents. (School COVID-19 guidelines permitting)
- Establish specific times to communicate with parents. At the beginning of the year, make it clear that parents can expect communication from you during specific times, such as every Monday evening or the 15th of each month. These class-wide updates keep parents informed on upcoming events, activities, and assignments. Additionally, it conveys your obligation to the class as a whole. Seeing the bigger picture helps parents understand that you’ll often need to make decisions based on the best interest of all of your students, instead of individuals.
- Ask parents for feedback to help inform your communication methods. Take some time to talk with different parents and find out what sort of communication is best for them. Do newsletters work? Handouts? Would a class website or email be better? While it’s not necessary to customize communication for every parent, involving them in the conversation makes moms and dads feel like their opinions matter, and conveys how important easy, effective parent-teacher communication is to you.
- Give parents specific, actionable solutions to issues their kids face. Parents often feel helpless or overwhelmed when their child is struggling at school, and usually don’t know what they can do to help. Empower them by giving parents specific things to do at home that can help fix the situation. For example, if a student has trouble with reading comprehension, encourage their mom or dad to ask them to predict what will happen next as they read stories together. This approach fosters an “in-it-together” feeling of bonding between the two of you, and shows parents you consider them partners in helping their kids excel.
- Celebrate the positive. Reach out to parents regularly to celebrate their child’s academic or social successes in the classroom. This positive reinforcement strengthens your bond with parents, and provides a communication balance for the times that you have to reach out with concerns.
- Explain the “why” behind your instructional decisions. You are the educational expert in your classroom, and make decisions about how you teach based on a variety of factors. Sharing the thought process behind your decisions with parents, unprompted, shows that you’re confident enough in your instructional methodology to share it with them, and invites parents to ask questions about what they don’t understand. This also helps you avoid unpleasant conversations in which you feel like you need to defend yourself or your teaching methods.
- Arrive to phone and in-person conversations prepared. Difficult conversations can easily become emotionally charged for a variety of reasons. Arriving prepared and keeping the conversation evidence-based will keep the focus on defining the problem and appropriate support responses.
- Assess the effectiveness of your communication. After using the same communication methods for some time, reflect on how they’re working. Are parents getting the information that they need? Are they engaged in conversation with you? Are you getting what you need from them? Make changes that reflect what you’ve learned about effective communication practices with parents.
The adults involved in guiding, raising, and educating kids all want the best for them. Unfortunately, while parents and educators share the same vision, there are competing demands which can lead to less-than-stellar conversations and frustration. By proactively creating strong bonds with parents, you can avoid this frustration and work together successfully to help your students reach their full potential.
-Daina Lujan, Guest Author