With so many tasks on your plate beyond classroom instruction, it can be easy to try to quickly and efficiently work through that to-do list during planning periods or after school. Your list may include a phone call, meeting, or written communication to the parents of a child who has had a behavioral incident, is struggling academically, or for whom you have some concern. While you may be dreading the call or writing the message, take a minute to put yourself in the parents’ shoes, especially if this isn’t the first time you’ve had to contact this child’s parents about something that is negative. Parents may feel nervous, anxious, embarrassed, concerned, frustrated, or angry before they even know why you’re reaching out. With a little bit of up front effort, you can begin to change the dynamic of communication with parents, especially of those with struggling students. Here are a few tips:
Share your intention
From the beginning of the year or even the start of your first conversation, let parents know that you want to be their partner and that you appreciate their support. Knowing that you share the common interest of their child’s success is a great foundation to build your communication on!
Use their names
Making parents feel welcome and respected is a big part of gaining their trust and partnership. Make sure you are addressing them how they like to be addressed and know how to pronounce their names correctly.
Lead with the positive (and there is always something positive!)
Share something positive with parents in your meeting or communication to discuss a concern. There is something good about every child you teach! Find that positive and share it with the parents prior to sharing your concern.
Make a positive call home or send a positive message
When your number pops up on a parent’s cell phone or a notification appears in their app, they likely think it’s going to be negative. This can make parents on edge before they even see or hear why you’re reaching out! Break this cycle for parents by reaching out to share something positive. Different children, and their parents for that matter, may need this at different intervals but it’s something you should strive to do.
Listen to the parent
To build that trusting relationship and for parents to genuinely feel involved in their child’s education, they need to not only feel heard, they need you to actually listen. Really listen. Parents know an awful lot about their children.
Let parents know specifically how they can help
Studies show that most parents know it is important to support their child’s learning at home and they want to do so however, not all parents know exactly what they should do to help! Help them help their child by giving specific suggestions of what they can do at home or in the community to support their child.
Send parents a quick message and include a photo, if you can, to share their child’s successes with them even if it’s a small step towards a greater goal.
Lisa Kehoe, SchoolCNXT Editorial Team and former teacher