As an early childhood educator, parents are entrusting you with their precious babies. In doing so, you are expected to wear many hats– a coach, a mediator, and a teacher to name a few. But probably the most important role you have is as a communicator. You need to be a good communicator with your students and peers, but maybe most importantly with parents. While this can be a daunting task, approaching communication through a variety of avenues is manageable and makes all the difference in strengthening your partnership with parents.
Beginning of the Year Parent Communication
Letter of introduction - This may be the simplest one, but is often overlooked. Before school starts, send a letter to your students families introducing yourself and welcoming them to your class. What is your teaching experience, your teaching philosophy, your expectations of students and parents? Share a little about your personal life too—your family and hobbies are a good place to start. Include a picture if possible. Putting a face with a name will help ease those first day jitters.
Home visits - If you have the time, home visits can be the most powerful way of getting to know your students and families and laying the groundwork for good communication. Offer the option to families so you can meet on “their home turf.” Optimally this would occur before school starts, but some families may be wary about inviting you into their home before they have established a relationship with you. There shouldn’t be an agenda for the brief visit (under 30 minutes), but you might ask the child to show you his/her room and consider taking a family picture during your visit which can be used in the classroom later.
Meet the Teacher/Orientation - Most schools offer some sort of meet the teacher before school starts, but my favorite is having separate ones for the parents and the children. Invite parents for their own orientation during the evening. If they’ve already received your letter of introduction, this is the optimal time to go more in depth about the curriculum, schedule, and goals. Make sure you include expectations for communication! How can they best reach you? Should they expect daily, weekly or monthly written communication from you in the form of a newsletter? How quickly should they expect an email response from you? Remember, they are entrusting their babies in your care and they want to know everything!
In addition to an orientation for parents, an orientation for children is a MUST! If possible, schedule small groups to come visit the class during small time blocks varying with age. Given them a tour of the classroom and then let them explore or interact with the other children. During this time, you might also have a special art activity or the give them the opportunity to pick their nametag or cubby.
Phone Conferences - After the first month or so of school, share a phone conversation with the parents of your students. You have been observing and getting to know their children and this is a good time to share some early observations. It is a great time to listen to the parents; to find out how their goals for their child for the school year. Certainly, these types of conferences can (and should) take place anytime through out the year, but I’ve found this early one to be instrumental in building the parent-teacher relationship.
Parent Communication Throughout the Year
Newsletters - Newsletters have always been a great form of communication and nothing has changed there. What may have changed is the avenue through which you share your newsletter. Remind parents of upcoming events, share parenting tips, and include pictures of children at school. Rarely do I print newsletters anymore. Now, they are emailed and posted to the website. What a great way to save time, money, and the environment!
Class or School Website - In the 21st century, the first place we head for information is our electronic devices. Having basic information available online is a great way to communicate with parents while also marketing yourself and your school to prospective parents. If you share pictures of students, make sure you have parent permission and refrain from using last names if you have captions.
In addition to our school website which has basic information for the community, our main communication tool is MemberHub. This is the one, secure place teachers and parents can find everything for our school. From the calendar to newsletters to class photo albums, you name it it’s here. I can also send short announcements (via email or text message) to parents reminding them to turn in picture orders or bring in show ‘n tell.
Notes or Calls Home - Have you ever received the dreaded note home from school? Sometimes you have no other choice to share an issue with parents. When you must do so, make sure you sandwich the not so good news with something positive both before and after. And even better yet, is to get into the habit of sending positive notes home. If you are in the practice of communicating with parents through “just because” positive notes, then if you have to share the negative news the parents might be more receptive to hearing it. When you only communicate bad news, parents tend to tune out!
Social Media - While you may occasionally find a family without a computer or email address, this is definitely the exception rather than the norm. In this information age, you have to meet parents where they are. Take advantage of the technology and communicate with parents via Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
End of Year Parent Communication
Conferences - While fall phone conferences help build rapport between parent and teacher and we might communicate electronically on a frequent basis, face-to-face conferences are still a must. This is a great time to share your observations along with student samples and suggestions for home activities to support the child’s growth an development.
Thank You Notes - Why should you be thanking parents? You might think it should be the other way around. Thank parents for the opportunity to learn and grow with their children. Even for those challenging students (and sometimes especially for those challenging students), a note of thanks goes a long way.
I’ll leave you with a few final words of advice: be positive (you get more of what you focus on), think before you speak (take a deep breath before speaking or writing when upset) and be careful with email (great for a quick response or update, but also easy to be misinterpreted). While doing all of these may seem daunting at first, pick and choose what works for you and you’ll be on the way to completing the puzzle of effective parent communication. It will ultimately make your job easier and parents will appreciate it too!
About the Author
This is a guest blog post from Beth Dickinson. Beth spent five years teaching primary grades in public school before having children. She has spent eight years as a preschool director including the last six years as the Director at Hayes Barton Baptist Preschool in Raleigh, NC.