When I became a parent I became a different teacher, while I definitely do not think you need to be a parent to be a great teacher, for me, it did make me a better teacher. It made me more empathetic to the needs of parents and the needs of my students. Things I thought about in black and white terms before I had kids all muddled into gray after becoming a parent. Parenting is hard, so is teaching and the relationship between a teacher and his or her students’ parents is worth investing in. For children who are facing challenges in the classroom, challenges at home, or for those who are thriving keeping communication open benefits everyone. Here are some of my favorite tips for effective parent communication.
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Share the good before the challenges.
If a child is challenged with behavior issues, separation anxiety, or anything else that would make a parent reluctant to hear about their day it is especially important to start with the good. I can hear some of you saying “What if there is no good?” There is always something positive and it’s up to you to find that ray and hold on to it. I have had my fair share of challenges as a teacher and especially as a director of a large childcare center. To this day I can tell you the positives each one of the most challenging students I had. If there really was no positive actions that day, find something positive to say about the child in general. This is especially important on days when you have to tell the parent something negative like they hit another child or created a large disturbance. Always leave the conversation on a hopeful note. If a parent feels like you love their child, they can better work as a team with you to overcome these challenges.
What We Did Today
Use a quick printable like this one to share what you did that day in class. This simple sheet gives parents talking points to bring up with their children and creates a bridge between home and school. Print this one out for free here.
I never thought twice about giving out my email address for parents to reach me for questions or concerns. I recently heard a teacher say that there is no way she ever would and that troubled me. Many parents won’t feel comfortable bringing up issues, sharing family challenges, or even asking how their child is doing when other parents are around. Email provides privacy, and I like the time it gives me to craft my response. You don’t need to reply at any hour of the night; no one expects you to, but giving parents this line of communication helps everyone.
I take at least five photos each day of my students and try my best to send some to parents, my goal for this year is to send out a collage each month, and at the end of the year we create a photo book. If a student is having a particularly hard time, I will usually snap a photo of them happy and engaged and send it to the parents to show them just how well they are doing. Parents put a lot of trust in us to take care of their children and taking the time to recognize that it can also be hard for them pays off.
Invite parents in for special events but do not make it mandatory.
I love special events, but they can get complicated when parents can’t make it. One way to alleviate this is to open the invitation to any special adult. Make sure all of these events are outlined in your calendar as soon as possible so work arrangements can be made. Also, incorporate evening events from time to time as well for parents who are unable to make it during the work day. These can be a lot of work, but the benefits to parent communication make them worth it.
Sounds fancy but they don’t have to be. It’s a group email that outlines what you have been doing in class, upcoming events and any other happenings at school. These also open the door for parents to reply with concerns or comments. Remember the responsibility for maintaining a good relationship is on staff, not parents, but it doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
Stop and talk if you can when you run into the families in your community.
I know this one is hard and no one expects you to be Mary Sunshine every moment of every day, but this is a useful piece of the puzzle. I teach in a close-knit community, it is rare for me to leave my house and not see a student or former student and some days I AM in a rush but most days I try to make sure when I hit the grocery store or gym I have an extra few minutes in case I do run into a family so that I can take a minute to chat. These run-ins have often been the most useful for developing a rapport with families and creating greater trust and better parent communication.
Stay positive when speaking about children and families with your co-workers.
As some of you know, I am in graduate school presently and this past week in one of my courses we were discussing and reading research around the idea of how teachers talk about students. The vast majority of teachers speak of their students in positive ways, but we all have bad days, and those are the days when it’s even more important to speak positively.
I was incredibly inspired by the readings that supported my gut feeling that the way we talk about our students even when they are not there creates the way we think about them. We have all had students that push our buttons but if we can find ways only ever to speak about them in ways that we’d speak about them in front of their parents that would serve everyone better. I’ve Included this in these tips for parent communication because I urge you only to speak of parents that way too. I know that dealing with parents can be frustrating from time to time, I am sure I have frustrated some of my children’s teachers, and we have all vented to co-workers but does this help? Research says no. What is productive is if we think and speak about the families we serve in positive, constructive ways. If we hold ourselves and our co-workers accountable the bridges between parents, teachers, and students will only strengthen.