Four ways to improve communication with parents
By Rachel Wilser
While parents are only in your classroom a few times a year, building and maintain a positive relationship with them is one of the most important things you can do at the start of the school year.
If you put some extra leg work in in August//September, it will really pay off when you need things for your classroom (additional supplies, party items, field trip chaperones, etc.) and when you need to have difficult conversations with them. Here are the four steps that I took every year to start off the year positively with parents.
- Reach out to all parents BEFORE the first day of school.
When I was teaching, one of the first things I would do when I received my class list was to call the number on file for each student. I would confirm that they were the person I was looking for, and then I would just briefly introduce myself, ask them if they had any questions, and tell them I was looking forward to meeting them in person on the first day of school, or on back to school night. My introduction would sound something like this: “Hi, my name is Ms. Elsener, and I’m so excited to have (student’s name) in my class this year! This is my x year at (your school), and I’m excited to go back to school in (x) weeks and meet all the new students!” Usually, after that I ask if they have questions and sometimes they do—generally about first day stuff, supply lists, or something else nominal. It probably takes about 30-45 minutes to go through the entire class list, and it’s great to touch base with all the parents before the first day of school. If you have any back to school events it’s also great to include a reminder about those (we had a first grade BBQ a few times, so we made sure to invite parents to that as well).
- Balance positive and constructive communication.
It’s so easy for this one to fall by the way side, but it’s so important! Sometimes it’s difficult to find positive notes to send home, but it doesn’t have to be something huge—it can be that a student who’s normally stingy shared something with a classmate, or that a student who works slowly finished their work on time. If you don’t put in the effort to balance the positive then it makes constructive conversations that much more difficult. Who wants to hear from a teacher who only brings bad news?
- Track your communication.
This sounds superfluous, but I always did it for two reasons. One, it helps me notice if I’m missing communication with a specific parent//family, and two, it’s a good record if something happens and a parent decides to go to an administrator with a problem. You have all your communication documented. I would track who I talked to, how I reached out (note home, email, call, etc.), and what our agreed upon outcome was.
- Reach out to parents in their preferred manner.
Maybe it’s the Millenial in me, but I preferred to text parents. It was fast, easy, and I could tell if they had received the message. I also liked it, because I could snap picture of their kids in action in our classroom and send it to them, which they generally enjoyed. But, if a parent is working in an office setting in front of a desk all day they might prefer email. It’s a small detail, but it’s easy. (You can note how they prefer to be contacted on the same sheet where you track the details of your communication.)
Taking the time to connect with parents before the school year starts will pay off throughout the year. It’s so much easier to leverage parents, when they hear from you routinely, rather than just when you need something.
Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.
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