Communication between parents and teachers is a hot button topic in education. Many teachers, if they’ve been in the profession for any length of time, have had some not-so-nice interactions with parents. It comes with the job sadly. On the other hand, teachers also can have some absolutely wonderful interactions with parents as well! Effective and positive parent teacher communication is achievable.
I have taught for eleven years now. Three of those first years I was not a parent myself. Even over the course of those eleven years, parenting has changed. The expectations placed on parents, the trends, the culture, and the world has changed.
Therefore, I have had a wide variety of parent interactions so far. I have had some amazingly supportive parents who trusted me to do my job, and I’ve had some parents on the opposite end of that spectrum.
Here are 10 tips from a teacher-mom to make parent communication a positive experience.
1. Always listen
Any parent who emails, who comes into your classroom, who is happy to see you, or rather angry with you, just wants to be heard. They want you to listen to what they want to talk about. Listen more than respond. Think about things from their point of view. Consider if it were your child in the same circumstance. It is always important to listen.
When receiving an angry email or tense phone call, pause. Do not respond right away. Do not call back right away. This allows you to think of how to respond thoughtfully, without any hint of anger coming across. It allows time for both parties to cool off. It allows you to summon up your professionalism and to really think about where the parent is coming from. It allows you to gather your thoughts and respond with a clear head.
3. Email Redirection
If a parent is getting rather tense in their email communication, do not directly respond to this tone. Respond by stating you’d be happy to meet them for a conference in person or on video chat. Don’t engage by becoming defensive. Stay professional and positive and ask for a good date and time to discuss the matter in person or virtually.
4. Be Proactive
When I taught elementary, I would send out a weekly email updating parents on tests and quiz dates, project due dates, school-wide functions, etc. I always received amazing feedback on this. Parents loved that I kept them in the loop on a weekly basis.
You can do this as well or by sending home a weekly newsletter or a weekly calendar for the upcoming week.
When I shifted to teaching middle and high school, I did place more responsibility on the student for communication, but I still sent home letters about big projects. I would regularly update the school-wide website we were required to use with homework and important dates.
Even after sending a letter home with project dates and requirements, I would email parents to remind them of those dates.
5. When in Doubt, Communicate
If you have something that happened with a student in which you aren’t sure if this warrants an email or remind message, or whatever your school uses, you should send a communication anyway. When in doubt, go ahead and communicate.
6. Alert Parents Personally About Grades
If a student is not doing well in your class, it is a good idea to reach out and let the parent personally know. With some schools having grading systems open to parents at all times, it is assumed that parents see the grades and know how their child is doing. Yet, parents are busy and some do not take advantage of an open grading system and are still in the dark about their child’s grades. If your school just releases progress reports and report cards, it is still wise to communicate before that progress report or report card if that grade will not be what the parent would normally expect. Still reach out to them to let them know and offer a chance to chat. Perhaps something has been going on at home that caused that student to not do so well that quarter.
Reaching out not only allows for a way to let the parent know about the grade, but shows that you are personable and care about the individual child.
7. Think About the Overall Goal
The parent and teacher both want the student to succeed. Sometimes the teacher seems like the enemy, when in reality they’re not. Parents and teachers are actually on the exact same team: wanting that child to do the best they can and to succeed. If you have this goal in mind, it helps make parent communication something positive and not negative. You and the parent working together trying to help that child is the best possible teamwork. Teamwork makes the dream work!
8. Communicate the Positives
Don’t let the only time parents hear from you be when you’re delivering bad news. Reach out and express positives to them about their child. If a student never has any misbehavior or concerning grades, still communicate and express how wonderfully behaved that child is or how well they’re doing. As a parent, we love to hear our child is doing well!
9. Update After Conferences
If you do meet with a parent for whatever reason, provide an update. As things progress, let the parent know that the goals you’ve discussed are being met and that their child is meeting or not meeting the expectations. This can be completed in a quick email or phone call home.
10. Lastly, Be Professional
Teaching is an occupation that should garner respect. Sometimes it just doesn’t from some parents. Yet, we should still act like we deserve respect. Set those boundaries. Answer emails during contract time. Delete your school email from your phone. Set up away messages on Remind. Don’t respond on the weekends.
Just like I wouldn’t expect my son’s pediatrician to answer my phone call at 11 pm at night for a minor issue, I shouldn’t expect a teacher to do the same. It’s okay to not be on call 24/7. You’ll be a better teacher if you exhibit a need for respect and boundaries. Exhibiting professionalism is the number one underlying goal that helps make all the other tips work.
Parent/teacher communication can be a positive experience. Staying professional, listening, and being proactive are just some of the above tips that will help your students’ parents understand you’re on their side, working together for the collective goal of that child’s success.
To get a head-start on effective parent communication, please download our freebie business card to hand out to parents with all of your contact info. You can even glue a piece of a magnet to the back so they can stick it on their fridge in a handy way!
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