Educators are expected to wear many hats – coach, mediator, and teacher, just to name a few. But probably the most important role they have is that of a communicator.
While it’s important to communicate well with your students and colleagues, communicating with the parents at your school is just as important – maybe even more so at the elementary school level. While this can be a challenging and never-ending task to add to an already-full plate, approaching communication through a variety of avenues is manageable and makes all the difference in strengthening your partnership with parents.
Here are just a few effective parent communication strategies for elementary school educators that I’ve learned about over my time in the school communication world.
Beginning-of-the-Year Parent Communication
Letter of Introduction – This may be the simplest one, but is often overlooked. Before school starts, send a note to your students’ families introducing yourself and welcoming them to your class. What is your teaching experience and teaching philosophy? What are 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.
Set Expectations for Communication Protocols – Most schools offer some sort of “meet the teacher” before school starts, but it’s even better to have separate events for the parents and the children. Invite parents for their own evening orientation. 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 parent-teacher communication!
- How can they best reach you? What is your preference?
- Should they expect daily, weekly, or monthly written communication from you?
- How quickly should they expect an email response from you?
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 and interact with their classmates. During this time, you might also have a special art activity or give them the opportunity to make a nametag or decorate their cubby.
Parent-teacher Conferences – After the first month or so of school many teachers plan a phone conversation with the parents. 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 this early one can be instrumental in building the parent-teacher relationship. Parents really value this one-on-one time with teachers and if you can make this happen then please consider it!
Home Visits – If it’s even possible, home visits can be a most powerful way of getting to know your students and families and laying the groundwork for good parent-teacher communication. I would assume this would be a luxury sort of scenario for both teacher and families to take advantage of but offer the option to families of meeting on their “home turf” if possible!
Parent Communication Throughout the Year
Newsletters/Email Updates – 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. Save the print newsletters for special occasions and use MemberHub, or another electronic delivery vehicle, instead. What a great way to save time, money, and the environment! (Not to mention avoid the dreaded “bottom-of-the-backpack” syndrome we’re all so familiar with.)
How often to communicate and which medium to communicate through varies widely. We know that. But the need for educators and schools to send consistent and timely updates to parents is increasing as parents get used to a constant stream of information available to them.
Class or School Website/Hub – Today’s parents have an “online first” and “mobile first” mindset – and so should your parent-teacher communications. Having basic information available online is a great way to communicate with parents while also marketing yourself and your school to prospective parents (ideally, you should have separate sites or portals for prospective families and current families, as their needs and interests are very different). If you share pictures of students, make sure you have parent permission and refrain from using last names if you have captions.
MemberHub is an excellent way to create a one-stop communications headquarters for your school. From the calendar to newsletters to class photo albums and online signup sheets, you name it: It’s there. Send short announcements via email or text message to parents reminding them to turn in picture orders or field trip permission slips – not to mention communicate effectively with the whole school community in the event of a weather-related or other emergency.
Positive Notes or Calls Home – Ah, the dreaded note home from school! Sometimes there is no better way to share a sensitive 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.
Social Media – While you may occasionally find a family without a computer or email address, this is definitely the exception rather than the norm – and becoming more rare every day. No matter the income level, most parents have a smartphone. It’s important to meet parents where they already are: social networks. Take advantage of platforms like Instagram where you can have a private account to communicate and share experiences with parents.
End-of-Year Parent Communication
Conferences – While fall phone conferences help build rapport between parent and teacher, and you’re ideally communicating 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 – It feel incredibly powerful to parents when it’s obvious that teachers are thankful to the parents that let them teach and lead their children! Thank parents for the opportunity to learn and grow with their children–they have entrusted you with something indescribably precious. Even for those challenging students (and sometimes especially for those challenging students), a note of thanks goes a long way, especially at the end of the school year.
Most teachers are already doing some combination of these communication strategies already but finding works for you and taking time to execute effective teacher parent communication will serve you and your community well. It will ultimately make your job easier, and parents will appreciate it too!