A Beginners Framework for Parent-Teacher Communication
When parents are engaged with their child’s education, good things happen. Students are absent less, get in trouble less, and do better on summative assessments. And when educators communicate with parents meaningfully? Engagement increases.
So what is meaningful communication? Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the call home that no one wants, ie, the student did something so egregious that a teacher needs to call mom about it. Yeah, that’s an obvious phone call. And then when students fail to turn in work, don’t do well on tests, or when they don’t come to school - educators commonly call parents in those situations. However, if this type of call is the first communication a teacher has with a parent, it will not be a strong foundation for building a relationship with the family.
The following framework can help teachers reach out to parents to produce better relationships.
The first step an educator should take is to introduce themself to the parent. This might be the easiest outreach to do. A message can be as simple as, “Hi, my name is Tyler Cummings. I am your student’s English teacher.
This is my phone number; please add me to your contacts and know that I welcome hearing from you. ” A teacher can call parents or text this first message.
The first touch is critical. A parent should know how to get in touch with the teacher and, for that to happen, the teacher should be the one who reaches out first.
The earlier a teacher reaches out, the better. The first week of school or even the week before is the ideal time to connect. This communication sets the tone for the year and serves as an open invitation that encourages parents to be in touch.
It’s important that parents are partners in the student’s education, therefore educators must appeal to their partner. It might sound
trite that the next step is to say something complimentary; It’s your job to set the tone of the relationship. The follow up message should be complimentary to the student, and it should be specific to the student. Most importantly, it should be true.
This can be difficult for some students—not all kids are the teacher’s pet. As the educator, the most appropriate compliments are about classwork, attentiveness in school, preparedness, or some other classroom skill. However, the adage ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” does not hold true for educators. If a teacher cannot praise a student specifically for some small act, praise the student generally for the class’s actions.
Educators want parents to know that they have a partner in the classroom who cares for their students and will work with them to help their students do better.
Once the teacher has established a rapport with parents, they can let the parents know about happenings in the classroom—upcoming tests, projects that are due, homework assignments to be completed. These ongoing updates are an essential part of classroom management, but they will only work if the teacher has first established the communication pathway.
For some parents, this might be the extent of your communication. First Touch, Complimentary Follow Up, Ongoing Updates. Those parents will be informed and comfortable reaching out to the teacher when they need help and guidance.
Other parents may need more. If you haven’t heard from parents all year, you may need to check on the family's preferred language, look into the family living situation, and send a hard copy note home with the student to inquire about changes in contact information.
When reaching out to a parent because of a behavioral issue or an educational issue, teachers that have made initial contact will have an easier time discussing a challenging situation.
No educator can tell based on a roster of names which students will be harder to work with than others. Early on, educators must reach out to all parents with positive language so that these difficult conversations take place on a strong foundation of openness and honesty.
Keep in mind the simple practice of the ‘feedback sandwich’ (adding the negative information between two positive sets of information), where you begin the conversation with something positive to share about the student, then the things that need their attention to be improved, and finish reiterating the positive. Maybe a teacher is excited about all the great work the student has done, they didn’t turn in this assignment which has brought down the grade, but there is a great opportunity to bring that grade up next week.
It can also help to shift focus from the student and the parent to the situation instead. The student may have been acting out in class. Still, when the teacher focuses on the disruption placed on other student’s 'ability to learn, the parent can better appreciate the situation than if a teacher was using accusatory language. “Your student did this…” is not an effective means of engaging the parent.
The timing of a call can be as important as the call itself. Calling a parent when they are at work might not be the best way to get and hold their attention. Talking to parents when they have the time to engage, in the method that works best for them, will lead to better parent responses.
An educator must keep their language positive and professional, but it is also important to offer specific remedies and goals for the student. Be prepared before a conversation to provide tangible guidance to a parent.
At times it feels like teachers are asked to do hundreds of different things within a class period and with limited resources to achieve student learning. It is critical to recruit parents to help with student performance. Parents who have an idea of what is happening in the classroom will help their students succeed and align learning at home with learning at school.
A simple text message to a parent about their child, every once in a while, can be the difference between going it alone or having a parent helper for each and every student. And here’s the kicker, don’t forget to compliment the parent for the efforts you see them putting in. Parents bring anxieties, prejudices, and expectations to their relationships with their kids’ school. It’s our job to let them know they belong in our school community. So, whether it’s reading with their children at night, assisting with homework, or helping them get a good night’s sleep, let parents know you see and appreciate their partnership. Let them know they are doing a good job—no one ages out of encouragement.
Although they are often used interchangeably, parent communication, involvement, and engagement have important differences. It is necessary to understand those differences when trying to establish your classroom goals for a communication solution.
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