Communicating with parents right from the beginning of the year is critical to smooth sailing for the rest of the year. As they say, “information is power.” When parents are properly informed there will be better parent-teacher communication.
There are many ways to communicate with parents, but before you get started it is helpful to figure out what parents have access to and what form of communication with parents works for them.
You will probably have to use more than one method of parent communication to make sure you reach every family. That does seem daunting, but let us help.
Help! Where do I begin to communicate with parents?
Ninja Note: We have used the word parent throughout this post, but please remember “parent” might not be the right word for your students. We use guardian, home adults, your people or your grown ups as ways to talk to kids about the people they live with at home. In this post, parents is interchangeable with any of those terms.
Create a document with all of the parents contact information. What is their phone number? What is their email? How do they prefer to be contacted? Keep track of all of this information. Your school or district may already have a system in place. Print it out or use the information to create your own contact list and tracking document.
When communicating with parents for the first time, start with an introductory message. Let them know who you are, what you love, what your teaching philosophy is. Give them a glimpse into your life!
A call home is a great way to connect with parents. In fact, a call home before the first day of school is always a nice touch.
We have a tendency to call parents when there is a problem, but calling for good news has a tremendous positive effect. Parents love to hear from you with positive feedback and it gives them a chance to connect with you.
Do I have to write a newsletter for communicating with parents?
If you have been teaching for awhile than you are familiar with the ‘dreaded’ newsletter. Years ago, you added cutesy clip art, printed it off and sent it home in your student’s backpack (in the hope it made it to the parents) it is much easier today. How many backpacks have you emptied that had a month’s worth of papers stuffed in the bottom?
Choose how frequently you want to send scheduled information. Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
A great way to share general information and to increase the frequency you are communicating with parents is to get your students to help out with the writing. Set up a template and they can do all the work. Just be sure parents know that the kids are doing the writing. 😉
Providing a digital newsletter is probably more likely to make it to parents. This can be in a simple email or in your online classroom portal.
How can I use digital resources to communicate with parents?
There are many digital formats to use depending on what programs you use in your class, school or district for a digital newsletter. If your school uses a Student Information System it might have an option to post news and information for parents. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to!
Maybe you use some other website or app as a critical part of your classroom. Seesaw is a popular choice. This is an easy and frequent way for communicating with parents. It is good for on the fly, in the moment, communication too. In addition, it also allows students (and families) to share in the learning.
Social media, such as Facebook, is another popular way to communicate with parents. Remember though, this assumes that your parents are using Facebook. Just be careful about privacy. Some school district don’t allow the use of social media. Check the rules in your district.
There are many tools available to connect with parents through web phone calls and video calls.
Surveying your parent community can help you decide the best method.
How can I use the Google tools for parent-teacher communication?
If your school uses Google for Education it’s a great way to share with parents. Through Google Classroom you can communicate with parents about assignments.
Your school might have website where school announcements are posted. However, having a classroom website would be even better. Google Sites has made building a class website very easy. There are nicely designed templates that only require you to plug in the information.
Gathering information from families can be done in different ways. Use Google Forms to check in. A survey can gather information that some parents wouldn’t think to share otherwise. For instance, send a form to check on how home reading is going or what further supports would help students at home.
Using Google Calendars is great to keep parents informed about what is coming up. Parents can easily see when events are happening, what assignments are due and when assessments are scheduled. It has the added bonus of keeping you organized.
Keep some ‘canned’ responses for emails on hand. Double check the wording and then keep them handy for answering those pesky questions like “When is the assignment due?”
Don’t spread yourself out too thin. With this in mind, pick the most common tools used by your students’ families (maybe 3 different ones) and use those for general classroom information.
In fact, keeping all the information in a centralized place will help when parents are trying to find information. Make it easy for parents and for yourself by keeping it simple.
Do I have to meet in person when communicating with parents?
One-on-one meetings give you a chance to get to know your students and their parents. You can ask questions, get details about strengths and weaknesses or just catch up on what is going on in their lives. Above all, it is a time to share any concerns you have about your student’s success.
At the beginning of the year having a meet the teacher event is a great way to connect with families. There are different approaches to this event.
The first option, a more formal event, has parents sit (uncomfortably) in their child’s desk while you go through a presentation. This presentation could explain your teaching philosophy, your schedule, your processes and procedures.
A less formal event would be more in the style of an open house. Parents can come and go during the open house hours. They can visit the class, get a sense of the space and touch base with you.
In this format you have to be a ninja master to escape the parent who latches on and talks your ear off. Consequently, you may miss some families as they enter and exit like ninjas themselves. Keep a sign up page available for parents that would like to have a more detailed interaction like a phone call or meeting.
How can I double dip for teacher-parent communication?
Communicating with parents while they help in your class hits two birds with one stone. Some parents love to share what they know, what they think, or what they are interested in. Invite those parents as guests to your class. There can be a wealth of information just waiting to be tapped into (for free).
Better yet, have them volunteer for a field trip.
Invite volunteers for family reading at the beginning of the school day. Feeling welcome in the class will show parents that you care they are involved. Not all communication is written or spoken!
Having parents attend school-wide assemblies is an opportunity to connect with families. Get them involved and make them feel included!
Here are some examples:
Science: Hold a science fair where students can share their science projects or host a Maker Walk. This product will help you and your students plan your event.
Social Studies: Hold an event that highlights a topic of study. Invite a guest speaker and have families join the presentation. Have families share their own stories for relevant events in history.
Math: Host a family math night using games made by your students.
Art: Organize an art show.
English: Coordinate a poetry night, story slam, or drama presentation.
Create Your Own Event: Have students plan an event or design a celebration. Let your students have some digital fun creating their own celebration or holiday. This Google Slides project combines creative writing, computer skills and critical thinking decision making. It’s an inclusive project that can be used any time of year. You don’t even have to be a computer expert to use this with your students.
Informal chats are important. When you are supervising before or after school as parents are dropping off children, make a quick connection. In these informal settings, keep the conversations light. You never know what ears will hear what you are talking about!
What about communicating with parents that fall through the cracks?
Without a doubt, every year you will have at least one family that you just can’t seem to connect with. They never answer their phone or their emails.
What should you do?
Start by asking yourself what you think the barrier is to communicating with the family. Is it a language barrier? A cultural difference? A lack of access to technology? A difficult work schedule? A complex family issue?
Once you have identified what might be the barrier, reach out to colleagues, your administrator and your school district for supports. How did last year’s teacher connect? Do you need help from a family liaison? Is a cultural broker needed? Is a translator necessary?
Admittedly, it can be challenging to connect with some families, but sometimes these are the families that need to be connected to you and the school the most. Communicating with parents who are hard to connect with is so important.
Don’t give up!
How do I communicate effectively with parents?
Communicating effectively will save you time. Have a clear, concise and detailed message.
First, ask yourself the who, what, when, where, why and how questions as you write. The less ambiguous the better. It leaves less room for follow-up clarification contacts from parents.
Second, use language that parents will understand. Although some might understand “teacher talk,” most won’t. Use every day language without acronyms or nicknames.
Third, be timely. Communicate upcoming events far enough in advance that families have time to prepare. Don’t send the information so far in advance that it falls off the radar. We do this with a “save the date” type message that explains more details will be sent two weeks before the event.
When issues arise, answer in a reasonable amount of time. We advise that when you have a tricky communication situation, stop, think and then respond. It’s a good idea to wait until you can think clearly before answering. Never respond when you are mad! With this in mind, it is a good idea to get a second pair of eyes on your response or talk if through with a colleague.
Keep track of communication. Not only will it help job your memory if needed, if can help you reach out when you realize you haven’t contacted a family for a long time. Use our communication log from our Resource Library or we can send you one when you sign up for our mailing list.
Lastly, be consistent with updates and news. This will increase parent buy-in if they know when to expect it.
Where do I draw the line when communicating with parents?
Setting limits on communication with parents is healthy. Setting ‘hours of operation’ sets boundaries. It lets parents know that you are available but not at all hours, on all days. They need to know that you have a life outside of school. If you have laid the groundwork by communicating with parents, they are more likely to understand this.
Remember-you can be a great communicator, but you can’t guarantee they’ll all be listening. Don’t beat yourself up. Try not to lose your mind when you receive ten emails from parents who didn’t read your newsletter. Parents are busy, too. This is when the canned responses are handy.
Be a communication ninja
Ninjas help each other. Reach out! If you are not already on our email list, sign up below. We’ve got your back. Make sure to connect with colleagues as well. No teacher is an island!
We’re looking for more ideas on how you connect with parents, so if you have an idea, let us know in the comments below.