“Call them.” The two most terrifying words for most teachers. But why? We’re worried that our calls will be met with unwanted responses. Communicating with parents and guardians can be stressful, but read on for 11 Tips for Communicating with Parents to help build and maintain strong, positive relationships with families.
Tip #1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Talk with Your Parents
Seriously, why are we so afraid to talk to our students’ parents? Maybe it’s the whole, “striking up a conversation with someone new”, or the “I have something to discuss they aren’t going to like.” Whatever it is, start small. A simple note in the student’s folder, a quick call to introduce yourself, or even a letter addressed to the parents giving your contact information. Once you begin the conversation, the rest will come a lot smoother.
#2 – Think about OREOS
Who doesn’t love those chocolate sandwich cookies? Chocolate, cream, chocolate again. Now that you’re craving something sweet, here’s why you should think about Oreos. It’s inevitable, you’re going to have those difficult conversations with students’ parents. They may have made some bad choices or their grades might be slipping, and now you have to talk with them. Don’t start the conversation with the negative. Sandwich it between two pieces of POSITIVE information.
(Start positive) “Johnny has been working so hard on his writing, I love his determination. He wrote a wonderful story the other day.”
(Insert difficult topic). “I am concerned about…”
(End Positive) “Johnny has made growth and I look forward to seeing where the remainder of the year takes him.”
Tip #3 – P.L.P- Parents Love Pics
My students’ families loved it when I sent pictures at the end of the day, or during the day if I had a quick break. Don’t think I did this every day. I did not. But a few pictures here or there can really change a parent’s view of the classroom setting. I used the Remind App but I know a lot of educators who use Class Dojo. Both are completely free and allow you to communicate without giving your personal phone number.
#4 Be Clear
Don’t sugarcoat things. If the student is having trouble with math and needs additional support, let the parents know. No one likes having to read between the lines. You don’t want the parent leaving the conversation thinking, “was that good or bad?” Be clear with them. Be honest and open with what the student needs.
Tip #5 – Be Prepared
Before having a conversation with families, make sure you’re prepared. Whether it be academics or behavior, you need to share strategies you have implemented as well as plans for improvement. If you don’t have anything prepared, then the conversation should wait.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” -Ben Franklin
#6 Make it Known
Do your parents know how to contact you? Do they know the best times to reach you? One of the first things you should give parents is information on how and when they can communicate with you. Whether you prefer email, call/texts, Remind or Dojo App, morning messages, afternoon emails, MAKE IT KNOWN.
Tip #7 – Face to Face (or Virtual)
One of the best ways to build positive relationships is to get face to face. Meet the face behind the messages. Whether you’re able to have a socially distanced meeting or a virtual face to face meeting, make it happen.
#8 Give it 24
You open your email and a parent has sent you a “heated” message that immediately puts you on the defense. A parent brings up a valid point during a conference that leaves you thinking, “hmmm.” Don’t feel like you have to respond right away. Give it 24 hours. If it’s an email, take time to think about a response, consult your admin if necessary, and come back to the email with fresh eyes. If it’s in a conference you can say, “You’ve brought up a great point, I’d like to think about it and come up with a few solutions.” Taking 24 hours to pause and collect your thoughts can be the difference between being reactive or proactive.
Tip #9 – Document, Document, Document
Do you have a parent communication log? No? Get one. Make one. ETTC has an awesome freebie in our Resource Library. This isn’t for helping you build those relationships but you never know when you’ll need to reference a past conversation. When your admin asks you, “Have you discussed this with the parents?” your communication log is your proof.
#10 Tell them something GOOD
So often I have parents who start conversations with, “I already know he struggles.” That’s heartbreaking. No wonder parents don’t want to answer our calls or emails. Make it your goal to call or email families at random times to tell them something POSITIVE. Did the student make a good choice during whole group? Tell the parents! They told a funny joke that had you rolling, tell the parents! They finally mastered that skill they’ve worked on for months, tell the parents! If a parent gets used to hearing ONLY the negative, of course, they are going to shut you out. Wouldn’t you if it was your child?
#11 Take a Walk in Their Shoes
You’ve heard it said before, “walk a mile in their shoes.” When it comes to communicating with parents, that might be what you have to do to make a connection. Don’t automatically assume everything the student does in class, they do at home. A child getting all the attention at home, who is now having to share the attention with 20 other students, might act completely different than he or she does at home. When the parent seems shocked at this behavior, take a walk in their shoes. Consider this may be a totally different side to the student that the parents don’t see. Or maybe you have a parent working two jobs who haven’t had an opportunity to sign the permission slip or look at the test grades. Take a walk in their shoes, their priorities may be different than what you think.
Communicating with parents can be intimidating, but can also be one of the most rewarding parts of being a teacher. Having a parent tell you how much they appreciate all the work you’ve done for their student is incredible. You can do it! Call them.
If you have any tips for communicating with parents you would like to add to this list, please leave them in the comments below. 👇🏼
Written by: Heather Wagoner
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