My first year of teaching, the very thought of communicating with parents gave me nightmares. As an introvert, this was something I just stressed over. I remember the first parent email coming through and my heart raced. While it took me a bit to get over that first hurdle, parent communication is not necessarily easy, but I can say that it has become easier. Here are a few things that have I have learned along the way.
1. Determine a mode of communication that works for you
I assumed that email would be my best and most efficient mode of communication. The thought of talking to a parent on the phone freaked me out. However, I would spend HOURS trying to carefully craft an email. Before pushing send, I often had a colleague read over everything, and let me say, many emails needed work.
What surprised me was that I prefer phone communication. The very thing that scared me, actually was so much easier for me. I could be myself on the phone, I knew that I had more control at wrapping up the conversation, and communication by phone was a safer bet than an email, where my words were saved for all eternity.
We must however realize that in some cases a parent may not have access to internet and therefore if email is our preference, we may need to look at other options such as phone, in-person or letter. As well, your school might have access to a translator that can help you communicate effectively with parents.
I recently learned about Google Voice, and setting up this separate phone line has been a total game changer! Check out why I love it so much HERE.
2. Resist checking your email on the weekend
This is a mistake I made continually during my first year of teaching. I would open my email on the weekend only to find a message from a parent. I would feel this sudden urgency to reply. I was not good at setting boundaries.
Here’s the thing: the second I responded, the parent knew that I checked my email on weekends or evenings, and this created a pattern of late or weekend emails. As well, the parent expected a quick response in the future.
Set an away message on your email, so that parents know you are out of the “office” and will respond on Monday, or when you get back from break. If you are using a phone line such as Google Voice, set up "do not disturb" hours.
No need to feel guilty about this. The weekend and after work are YOUR hours. And self-care is so important.
3. Acknowledge a parent email or text
When opening email or text messages (if using Google Voice) at the start of the week, there may be multiple parent emails. I suggest sending a quick acknowledgement response if the message is not urgent. I may say something like, “I have received your email. I will get back to you within 24 hours" (or after school, etc.).
I have found that acknowledging receipt of the message puts parents at ease. They know teachers are busy, but they want to know that we care. This will also buys a little bit of time to craft an email response, and should help keep additional emails at bay.
4. Teachers benefit from communicating with parents
As much as communicating with parents can be time consuming (especially if you have over 100 students!), I find that when I keep parents informed through newsletters, emails, and especially phone calls or in-person meetings, parents are more likely to be receptive to their child’s academic, social, emotional, and intellectual needs.
When I communicate with parents, I also gain insight into the child’s family system. I can better understand the family's time and abilities, and overall families feel valued when I call home not just for behavior, but for positive things as well. Parents may have a more positive perception of the school and the teacher when calls are made home for both negative and positive behavior.
5. Keep both parents informed
Reaching out to both parents is key in situations of separation and divorce. A parenting plan should be on file with the school. Just because a child may reside with one parent full-time does not necessarily mean that that parent is the sole decision maker when it comes to their child’s education. In cases of Parental Alienation, one parent may deliberately and intentionally try to keep the other parent uninformed. Reaching out to both parents is super important. Yes, it might take a little extra time to make a phone call to the homes of both parents, but as teachers, we need to ensure that we are not giving one parent preferential treatment.
6. Keep a parent communication log
Documentation is so important today. I keep a parent communication log of each time I have correspondence with a parent. Whether that be a call home, a chat in the parent-pick up line, or an email, I jot down what I discussed. This also gives me some insight into which parents I haven’t reached out to in a while. I like to touch base with parents with positive calls home, and this helps me keep track.
If you teach middle school or high school you might have over 100 students. I suggest dividing your class lists into small sections and taking one day a week to call or email one section of parents. Continue this until you've reached out to all parents. Even just reaching out once per quarter or semester can make a big difference in building rapport with parents. I like to point out the positive aspects such as character traits, work ethic, or good attendance. Communication doesn't have to be lengthy to be effective.
A key to remember...
Parent communication doesn’t have to be scary or negative. It’s an opportunity to better understand our students and build a positive rapport with families, which can go a long way in promoting better attendance, self-discipline, and a positive attitude about school.
Want to read more about parent communication, and the importance of including both parents in your communication? Learn about Parental Alienation in Schools.
Do you have conferences coming up? Nervous about staying organized and what to expect? Read more here: Parent Teacher Conference Tips
Are you a new teacher? Join the First Year Teacher Mentor Facebook Group! This is a safe space to ask questions, share in the day-to-day of teaching, and celebrate one another's successes.