In secondary education, teachers and parents provide a vital support system that helps students excel in learning. Both groups are important to a student’s long-term success, especially when they communicate and work together effectively.
But let’s be honest: there are no one-size fits all approaches towards building relationships with parents.
You (and parents for that matter) are already splitting time on a variety of demanding tasks throughout the work week. Additionally, each parent is unique, and you’ll come across a variety of personalities and levels of involvement in the classroom. Dealing with different parents means you’ll want to implement diverse strategies and tools to make sure students are being set up for success in both the classroom and at home. To help with this process, here are seven ways to improve parent-teacher communication.
Be proactive (and positive)
One of the easiest starting points for improving communication with parents is being proactive. Connecting with parents early on throughout the year will help you build rapport and establish that communication is not just for negative student feedback.
Talking to the parent(s) of each family may be difficult if you’re responsible for hundreds of students, but even a simple phone call can make a big difference. A simple script you can use is the following: “Hi, [name of parent/guardian]. I want to introduce myself and make sure I had the correct number for you. I've really enjoyed getting to know your child so far in class. [He/she/they] seems like such an interesting kid, and I'm sure we will have a good time here. I promise you we’ll learn a lot in this class. etc." Following this script is beneficial in several ways.
- It establishes initial positive communication between you and the parent.
- It allows you an opportunity to ask questions about the student’s interest and learning style.
- It will hopefully keep the parent from becoming defensive or blindly supporting their child if you have to make a phone call about their behavior.
By communicating early, you’ll start the process of building needed trust and support.
Remember you’re in this together
You may forget this occasionally, but keep in mind that you and the parent want the student to succeed in class. Recognize this is easy with certain parents and a challenge with others. Sometimes a parent may overcommunicate with you daily or react negatively without knowing the full story. While this may be an inconvenience at times, stay positive with every interaction and do not assume malice when grace is enough.
Keep it goal-oriented
When communicating with parents, especially in one-on-one encounters, work with an end in mind. Focus your message on finding a solution. If you’re unsure of how to achieve a specific outcome, don’t be afraid to ask the parent to brainstorm solutions. This allows you to be partners and will reinforce the idea that you are a team working together to help the student succeed.
A challenge you may face when teaching several students throughout the year is keeping track of parent correspondence, especially if they are highly engaged. To help stay organized, veteran teacher and blogger Angela Watson created this free downloadable parent-teacher communication log. This editable document can help you record important interactions with students’ families and even document times where communication wasn’t successful (e.g. a disconnected phone number). By logging these conversations, you’ll be able to stay up-to-speed with your parents’ needs.
Find a translator
One of the bigger communication hurdles you may face – especially if you’re teaching in a more diverse school – is not speaking the same language as a parent. If you can’t successfully communicate with them, seek a translator for at least one meeting, whether it’s in-person, a phone call, or a video conference. If the parent speaks an uncommon language, you can sometimes reach out to a refugee center or other public agencies for help. You can also leverage online translation tools like Google Translate and DeepL to help communicate with parents, especially if you are on a tight budget. No matter what, make sure you’re doing what is necessary to keep them included in communications.
Be a broker of resources
Over the course of a school year, parents may ask you questions or share concerns about their child without knowing a solution. If they come to you, be ready to discuss where they can find help. If you both share a concern about the child (e.g. “Your son spaces out in class.”), be prepared to suggest specific steps or resources that a parent can utilize for help or to learn more. If you don’t have an answer, tell the parent you will be happy to work together to find a solution.
Recent advances in technology have changed the way teachers communicate with parents. Although email is still one of the top online communication tools, online messaging and video conferences have expanded both one- and two-way communication over the last few years. Some of the top software teachers are currently using in the classroom include:
Online messaging - Remind.com
- Remind.com is a free messaging platform that allows teachers to send quick announcements to both parents and students through text message, such as a reminder for tomorrow’s big accounting test. This also allows parents to directly respond to the teacher with questions or comments they may have over the course of the week. Using a tool like this provides easy on-the-go communication for busy families.
Video conferencing - Skype & Google Hangouts
- Each parent’s schedule will be unique, and, for some, they do not have the flexibility to attend a face-to-face meeting. Providing a video conference option through a platform like Skype or Google Hangouts allows parents to experience the same real-time interaction benefits as others who can attend a meeting in person.
- Online messaging - Remind.com
As a teacher, you have the unique insight into a child’s behavior and abilities that a parent may not always recognize or see. Sharing this knowledge helps both parties aid the student’s ability to flourish in the classroom. By implementing these tips, you’ll be able to improve messaging by bypassing potential communication hurdles and providing solutions, resources, and thoughtful, informative messages that ultimately supports their child’s learning needs.
Here’s to improving more effective and efficient parent-teacher communication.