Monday, September 2, 2013

Five Tips for Better Parent Communication

I originally wrote this as a guest post for  Raki's Rad Resources and I have updated it a little based on recent experiences.  This week I begin my twenty-third year in the classroom.  Although my career has not been totally free from conflict with parents, I want to share with you five things I consider when contacting parents.

Be proactive.  I start with a parent information form the first week of school.  At the top of the form is this sentence: “I believe that a parent is a child’s first and best teacher.”  It sets the tone for the year.  I included this form in a previous post.

Be positive.  All families advocate for their children. They just may not approach us in the way we like at the times we like. All families want their students to be successful. We may define success in different ways. Someone who doesn’t seem to cooperate is probably just afraid.  I need to remember that some of my parents have never had a good experience at school. 

Be predictable. When I transferred to the school where I teach now, I earned the reputation of working well with parents.  “You answer our emails,” one parent shared with me. I make it a personal goal to respond to a parent within twenty-four hours.  I make sure I am on time to parent meetings.  I want parents to know they can trust me with their children. If I put off contacting the parent, the problem generally grows worse.

Be professional.  It’s tempting to gossip in the staff lounge and speculate about family backgrounds.  The more parents know they can trust me to keep their concerns private, the more they are willing to share with me information that will help me teach their child.

On the other hand, talking with the student’s previous teacher can give you good information to help you this year.  Make sure this conversation is private and based on direct observations of the child and parent conferences.
If I do need to process a difficult situation aloud, I have a teaching buddy in another district who I walk with.  I know I can share and she will keep my confidences.

Be prudent.  I have had five or so parents in my career that made me uneasy for one reason or another.  It is wise to invite another staff member to attend these conferences.  Another person can be a buffer in a potential conflict or a neutral witness to what I share with the parent.  If you do this, let the parents know who will be attending the conference so they don’t feel cornered. 

The other side of this is inviting the parent to bring in someone he or she feels comfortable with.  It is tough to receive difficult information without a support system.

I make communication with parents a priority and I hope they see that.  I believe that this priority benefits everyone.

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