Hands down, one of the most important and potentially complicated aspects of teaching is maintaining good communication with parents and caregivers. Few conflicts could not be improved with better communication- in or outside of the classroom.
And yet, classroom communication can be quite challenging. Are parents reading the emails, newsletters, or reminders that you are sending? How can you improve communication? Here are some ideas:
1. Communicate in Layers:
Here is a nonexhaustive list of ways to layer in communication. While consistency is important, its also critical that parents and caregivers feel that they can reach out to you as well. Layers of formal and informal (and overwhelmingly positive) communication help facilitate that relationship:
- Learn names & pronunciations for parents and caregivers
- Ask about the student's outside-of-school hobbies and activities
- Smile & say "hello" each time you see a parent or student
- Let Parents know specific ways that they can help- "bring in kleenex" or "ask you child about photosynthesis"
- Be a resource- Do you have books or contacts you can share?
- Lead with good news & stay positive
- Don't assume- ask!
- Ask for feedback
- Be open about instructional decisions
2. Administration Backup:
Most adminstrators ask for access to your classroom communication as well. How can they better support you? Also, it lends credibility to your communication when parents see that other staff and administration participate in your classroom twitter feed, blog, or can answer questions about your classroom goings-on. Make sure to keep them in the loop.
3. Relevant & Sensitive to Family Needs:
"The study, published in Teachers College Record, found that math teachers are more likely to contact parents of third-generation black and Latino students about disruptive behavior than parents of third-generation white students. In fact, math teachers contacted parents of black students over behavior issues twice as often as they contacted parents of white students. "
Here are some important questions to ask yourself (and use to survey the families!) about your communication:
- Are families getting the information that they need about curriculum and events?
- Or, are you getting a lot of questions that are easily answered elsewhere? Is there a lot of misinformation, or lack of information causing problems?
- Can the families of my students read and access my communication?
- Does everyone speak English? Can they regularly access email or would phone calls work better? Does everyone have consistent cell service? Do papers make it home and back?
If you won't remember to update the twitter feed, and you're the only one in the building doing it, it probably isn't going to be an effective means of communication for you. Similarly, if every teacher sends out a homework email at 4pm each day, you know you'll remember to do the same when you see theirs! Also, if you have been writing a classroom newsletter each week for decades, don't re-invent the wheel. Simply upload it and send out an email blast or share it through Google Docs. Your tech person or teaching team can help collaborate on ideas, but most importantly, find what works for you so that you can stay on top of it.
Aside from making sure that each family recieves and can understand your communications, this is the most important point. When parents know they can cound on a weekly email or text update, they know where to look when they need information, and they know they can rely on the information that they get. Research shows that when students feel supported by parents and teachers, they succeed. One way to make sure they feel supported is to connect through consistent communication.
5. Is It Working?
Dont be afraid to change it up if it isn't accomplishing your goals. Still having a lot of issues with returned permission slips or report cards? Missed conferences or concerts? Ask parents again what their preferred method of communication is. I know that my husband meticulously reads the emails from the school, but I am more likely to remember a text reminder.
Consider modifying methods for certain families. It doesn't have to be a lot of work if it is focused and effective. In the long run, what is remembered by parents and students will be more lasting anyway! Make your time work for you!
What communication methods work best for you? How do you manage different family needs?