Although it is often underestimated and overlooked, parent and teacher collaboration is vitally important to student success. Some parents have time to be very involved and others have significantly less time and/or resources to dedicate to schooling. Either way, parents ought to be a respected part of the education equation and positive communication with them should be toward the top of teachers' priorities. Here are a few tips for keeping parent communication positive:
Be available. Within our school environments, we often know the best way to get ahold of our colleagues. The principal prefers email, a department chair likes voicemail, a close colleague is best through text, and so on. However, parents are not part of our day to day operations and it isn't always obvious to them how to get ahold of us. Be sure to include your best contact info at Back to School Night, Parent Conferences, Open House, and your website if you have one. Tell parents if they can contact you through:
- Email (make sure the address is easily accessible)
- Voicemail (make sure your extension is listed on syllabus, website, etc)
- The Learning Management System of your school
- Social Media
- Text (one of my local schools has gone to parent/teacher texting via celly).
- Walk-in hours
It may seem obvious, but after you communicate this information to parents, you have to follow through. This is one of the most common frustrations I hear from parents. A teacher will say that email is best, but then not consistently check it or respond to it or he/she may say that social media is always available and then not update for months. This leads to my next point.
Have boundaries. You probably will not have positive parent interactions without some boundaries. You should not be a slave to parent communication, emailing back at midnight to let them know what specifically the student missed on the last test. Here are some boundaries that I find helpful:
- Establish a 24 hour response time. I think this is fair to both parties. I keep this standard on the weekends also, but you may want to make it 48 hours on non-school days. Whatever you decide, communicate it to parents so they know what to expect.
- Conference when necessary: Some situations warrant a meeting. Instead of writing a long email that may be misconstrued because of tone or jargon, don't be afraid to ask for a meeting.
- Let them know any pitfalls to communication. For me, this is voicemail. Even with a post-it on my computer monitor and a recurring cellphone reminder, I have the hardest time remembering to check my school voicemail. Our phones don't have a flashing red light or any other indication that we have a message, so voicemails occasionally go unnoticed by me. Voicemails are also not available over the weekend, so the response time can be much longer for multiple reasons.
Make positive contact. It can be a daunting task when you have 200 students spread over 5 periods, but sending an authentic positive note or call home sets the stage for open and positive communication later if or when you need to discuss any issues. For me, email is better (and quicker), but a phone call is preferable when email access is limited. Some of the positives you can use to contact parents include:
- High test/quiz scores
- Consistent effort
- Additions to class discussion
- Taking responsibility
- Coming in for extra help when needed
- Helping others when needed
- Anything else you notice!
Use technology (if appropriate). You know your school demographics best. If parents have access to technology, use it to your advantage! Here are two ideas:
- Celly: This service allows you to use texting for academic purposes in a safe, private manner. There are many applications for celly in the classroom, but one of them is for parent communication. Parents can opt in to the service with a simple text. The website offers printable instructions for teachers, students, and parents. Once it is set up, parents can text you within appropriate boundaries. You don't have to give out your actual phone number, and you can set acceptable hours for texts. You can text privately with individual parents and also send out announcements to the entire list. Click here for the cel.ly website and click here for my earlier blog post about ways to use it in your classroom.
- Google Forms: If parents of your students can access your website, you can quickly embed a google form that will help you schedule parent communication. You can make certain fields required, which is nice because it ensures you get all the proper information to contact them back, prepared to discuss their comment or concern. For more info, click here for an older blog post about using google forms.