When I began teaching, I always thought I was being very clear in my communication. I sent home newsletters, personalized emails and notes, and even invited parents into my classroom for special events. I assumed the parents in my classroom felt informed and understood my perspective. After I became a parent, I began to realize that I may not be communicating all that I originally thought. As teachers, we think a lot about HOW and HOW OFTEN to communicate with parents, but I wonder if we think as much about WHAT message our parents are really receiving from us about their child. Communication is more than the words we say to parents, but also what they hear and understand as a result. Based on my experiences as both a parent and a teacher, I have developed these tips for better communication between parents and teachers.
Take a personal interest in my child.
Show me that you know my child as an individual and that they aren't just another number in your class. Refer to a personal conversation or a hobby he or she has. Tell me something unique about my child that you have noticed. I am a lot more likely to listen to you if I believe that you have taken the time to understand my child. One of my fears as a parent is that my child will go unnoticed or only be noticed for negative things. Put my fears at ease.
Be clear about what you are asking me to do.Sometimes I don't help because I don't know how to help. Rather than telling me that my child needs to practice reading more, tell me that you want me to read to my child for 15 minutes each night. Instead of telling me that you gave my child a consequence for bullying, ask me to talk to my child about bullying and care of others. It doesn't need to be a command, but giving me an action step communicates your intention more clearly and gives us something concrete to talk about.
Express a shared responsibility for my child.Sometimes it can feel like my child's teacher and I are on different teams competing against one another. We need to be on the same team in order to best help my child. I want to hear about what you will do, what you want my child to do, and how I can help. This structure creates a team environment with shared responsibility for the success of my child.
Give me some context.I am not in the classroom with you and my child each day, so I need some context in order to better understand how to work together. Anticipate my questions and provide me with answers so I can understand the situation better. What happened? When did it happen? Why do you think it happened? How did you respond to resolve the situation? To what extent are you concerned? I will handle the situation at home differently based on if it is a big deal or if you are just giving me a heads up.
Respect my work schedule.Do your best to find out when I work, and don't call me during that time unless it's really important. When I am interrupted with a phone call at work from my child's school, I instantly begin to worry that something is wrong. I may even meet a positive or courtesy call with resistance because of how worrisome it is to initially receive that call during work hours. I still want to hear the positives, but maybe a note would be better.
Grab my attention.I get a lot of papers sent home for each of my children, so it can be hard to determine which is most important. Direct my attention by using brightly colored paper to make it stand out from the pile. If you send out a weekly or monthly newsletter, change up the format or put something new in from time to time. When papers look the same from week to week, my eyes have a tendency to glaze over them, but novelty grabs my attention.
Make it actionable and relevant.When sending home a large group communication, ask yourself, "How can parents use this information?" If it isn't useful, find a way to make it relevant to me or reconsider including it. When I don't understand how to use the information or take action after reading it, I am much less likely to continue reading. Making it actionable and relevant increases my motivation to participate.
Show me examples.Just like I need context for behavioral conversations, I also need it for academics. This is especially important with my children in lower grades. My primary-aged children often struggle to explain what they were supposed to do for an assignment, especially regarding certain Common Core Math standards. I love receiving specific examples and explicit instructions for homework and family projects. Sending home an answer key or doing the first example helps me feel more confident in my ability to help.
Believe the best about me.Give me a little credit for the good my child does. If you are calling home for something positive, be specific and tell me exactly what my child does that you appreciate. At the same time, be kind to me when you have to share difficult news with me about my child. Frame your words carefully. Understand my defensiveness; it is my instinctual nature to protect my child. Like all parents, I make mistakes, but I giving it my best effort. When I believe that you believe the best about me, I feel safe enough to share both my struggles and successes.
With warmest regards,
A Teacher Mom
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