By Teachers, For Teachers
Many schools today have set clear goals for increasing ‘family engagement’, and are rolling out systems and programs to reach parents. More than information about the school, parents want to know what their kids are doing in the classroom. Providing parents with this information can create strong and effective partners for teachers.
Here are 7 tips to create a robust communication plan that leverages the power of your students’ families.
Don’t communicate with families simply to check a box on a checklist. Create a conversation in order to further your aims in the classroom.
Do you want to have better student attendance? Do you want to bring more parents into the classroom to share professional experiences with students? Whatever your goals are, keep them in mind when designing your plan.
Research has shown that parental expectations are one of the strongest predictors of student achievement. Your communication plan should be designed to set clear, consistent and high expectations for student performance in class. This will put parents on your side and enable them to reinforce your expectations in the home.
When the time comes that you need to communicate with a family about academic or behavioral problems in the classroom, the family’s reaction is far more likely to be supportive if you’ve already demonstrated you commitment to high standards. Communicating high standards from the beginning for the year, will set you up to have much more objective conversations with families about individual students.
Make sure that parents are aware that you’re responsible for more than just their student. Setting this context will help parents see your point of view when and/if you need to make a decision that is best for the group, but which might not be ideal for each individual student.
Parents will not only be hearing from you. The school will be communicating with them about schoolwide issues as well. You don’t want parents to feel like the only thing that is being communicated to them is fundraising requests.
At the same time, you want to be sure that they are aware of the full range of resources, such as after school and summer programs, that the school offers as well as how other services connect to the shared goals that you have for their student. Parents need help in making these connections to create a more holistic education and will appreciate sound advice about what students can gain from specific activities offered by the school.
Ask parents what communication methods are best for them. Do not assume that parents are all the same. Using multiple communication methods allows parents to hear from you in ways that work for them.
Some traditional options, like notes and calls home, can be time intensive, but work for some parents. There are also a ton of techie ways that can be a little easier to switch up. While email may be great for some parents, you can also try texting, twitter or a classroom blog to provide a range of options. There are some online tools, such as SnappSchool.com, that will let you do multiple methods at once.
Pay attention to results. Are your communications getting parents engaged? Do they show up? Do they return permission slips, do students arrive prepared for class? What methods are providing the most response from parents and students? You can adapt your plan to make the best use of your time. If most parents respond best to email, then you can save yourself some calls home.
Don’t let it be an item on the checklist; make it a strategy for achieving your larger classroom goals. Whatever your plan is, open up the lines of communications with parents, and set them up to talk with their kids each day about their school day. This alone can be a powerful thing.
What tips do you have for effective parent teacher communication? Share in the comments section!
About the Author
John Halloran is the parent of two elementary school students in NYC public schools, and the co-founder of SnappSchool, which provides a tool that allows teachers to send quick, updates to the parents of their students. Teachers can sign up to participate in SnappSchool’s free beta at www.SnappSchool.com.