Parent-teacher communication is an art. It takes patience, practice, and poise to not only keep your students’ parents informed about what their children will be learning week to week but also keep them in the loop about upcoming field trips, birthday rules, conferences, special events, early-release days, holidays, state assessments, homework changes, and more delicate topics like individual students’ behavioral issues and academic feedback (phew!). You probably know the benefits of establishing strong parent-teacher communication throughout the school year, but how do you actually make time for regular communication to build those critical relationships with parents and other caregivers?
As you prepare for the upcoming school year and gear up to meet a whole new set of parents, here are nine tips to help you establish successful lines of communication.
1. Aim for positive interactions
Your mom was right—first impressions are everything. Just like you would if you were meeting a new colleague at work, make an effort to be your best self the first time you meet a student’s parents. Smile, shake hands, make eye contact, and ask “get to know you” questions—the whole enchilada. Say something positive about their child, and tell them you look forward to working together for the rest of the school year. While you don't need to be best friends forever with every parent, you do need to do your best to establish a good relationship with parents right from the get-go. It’ll make the rest of the school year a whole lot easier. After all, the success of a student is achieved as a result of time spent both inside and outside of the classroom.
2. Collect your own information
Try to get as much detailed contact information as possible from your students’ parents on day one. It may feel a little excessive to ask parents to fill out a form just for your class when they have probably already submitted their information for the school directory, but having your own detailed contact form can really come in handy, especially for the parents of younger students whom you need regular contact with. Think about it—you may have a home phone number on file through your school’s LMS, but do you know that mom prefers to text or that dad has the child two days a week? Learning as much as you can about who your students spend their time with at home can go a long way toward establishing great communication.
3. Be crystal clear
Right from the start, let parents know why, when, how, and how often you plan on contacting them. Then, inform them exactly how they can get in touch with you. Assure them that you value their time, understand their busy schedules, and will do your best to accommodate them—just like you expect they will do for you. Communicate exactly what time you will be available to meet in person during the school day, and stick to that schedule so that you can be found when you’re needed and not bothered when you’re busy attending to your million other teacher duties. Then, when you’re done telling them, give them some type of take-home reference with all of the information you just went over—preferably in a format that won’t get lost or quickly tossed away. Fun ideas include easy-to-make business cards, refrigerator magnets, postcards, and flip books.
4. Make technology your friend
We’ve come a long way since the days of weekly class newsletters and safety-pinning important reminders to students before they go home for the day. With a few taps, swipes, or clicks, you can now text, instant message, or email blast to alert your class’ parents of homework reminders, field trip updates, and syllabus changes. There are tons of apps out there specifically tailored to helping teachers keep in touch with parents, organize class volunteers, and make announcements. Google Voice, for example, sends an email of each voicemail in writing so that documenting is made easy. There are also apps that can be used to send a single voice recording to a large group (so you only have to dial once). That’s a huge timesaver for sharing urgent reminders!
5. Make time for face time
There’s no reason why, just because you can’t meet in person with someone, you can’t still talk face to face. Give your class parents the option to schedule Skype, FaceTime®, or Google Hangouts™ meetings with you. (There may be additional video communication options available.) This is also a great option for parents who normally can’t volunteer because of distance or other conflicts to get involved in the classroom from afar. The same applies to more low-tech options when it comes to finding time to meet with parents. If you’re having trouble reaching a mom by email, find out when she might be making a trip to school for another reason, such as end-of-day pickup or after-school sports activities. Sometimes, you have to get creative when it comes to tracking down parents!
6. Document parent communication
Keeping a parent communication log is a must when it comes to staying organized in a busy classroom. A parent communication log will help you keep track of what exchanges you have with parents, record how often they are asking for their children to be excused, and get a feel for what method of communication is getting the best response. Logging communication after it happens will also help jog your memory before parent-teacher conferences so that you can develop a better relationship over time.
7. Call home with good news
You already know to call a parent when something is wrong, but how about getting in the habit of calling with praise for your students as well? Try setting communication goals to seek out a couple of positive interactions a week—such as sending notes home, shooting off a text, or making a quick phone call. These upbeat interactions come back around and will inevitably give students a more positive feeling about school. Plus, if you call to brag on something good a student has done, parents will be less anxious when they see your number popping up from time to time.
8. Be prepared
When the time does come to call a student’s home and inform a parent about a problem—whether it is social, academic, behavioral, or anything else—always come prepared to discuss not only what strategies you have already used to try to mitigate the problem but also what other possible solutions you would like to try. Be ready to adjust your plans based on parent input and assure them that their involvement is vital to their child’s success. Parents will appreciate you for not just dropping problems in their lap and will feel more comfortable working with you when you already have some solutions in mind.
9. Use volunteers
One of the best ways to stay in touch with the parents of your students is to get them involved in the classroom. Using parent volunteers not only helps you by adding an extra pair of hands to your sometimes-chaotic class, but it also makes your students feel proud when they see their parents are involved. Make sure that you are very familiar with your school policies on volunteering and that you have a plan of action when it comes to how you'll use your volunteers. You should also stress that volunteering doesn’t always have to happen between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM. Volunteering can be about reading to the class or chaperoning field trips, but it can also be done by helping students during small-group work, sorting and organizing papers, administering missed tests, or helping with after-school activities.
Are you ready to go back to school? Check out our Teacher’s Ultimate Guide to Back-to-School Planning for more classroom management tips to get ready for your best school year yet!