By Teachers, For Teachers
Effective communication is extremely important between educators and parents. It is the key to building relationships with students and families. Keeping the lines of communication open means avoiding misunderstandings and communication mistakes. The more parents and families are kept in the loop, the more they feel like an active participant in their child’s education. The following are common mistakes educators make and how these mistakes can be fixed with simple communication strategies.
Creating a clear line of communication means that communication between educators and parents should be two-way and not one-way. Sometimes educators use tools that only allow parents to read messages and they are not able to respond or voice their opinions. To solve this problem, teachers can use applications such as Class Dojo or Zoom to communicate with parents.
Class Dojo offers a variety of features that allow parents to receive and respond to teacher messages, view student work in their personal portfolios, and view class stories. Parents can also sign up to receive behavioral feedback via the application. This has been particularly handy for many educators during the implementation of eLearning across the country due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Zoom is another tool that allows educators to communicate with parents and families. The application allows educators to host virtual meetings in which they can share their computer screens to display information or student work. This application has also been a go-to communication tool during the recent COVID-19 crisis.
Another common mistake made by educators is failing to communicate with parents frequently enough. Balance is essential, meaning educators should share positives in addition to negatives. Some districts require parent teacher communication logs. For example, teachers may be required to make at least one parent contact per month and keep documentation of this. This can be done in a variety of ways including; email, phone, in person, or virtually.
Documentation is also extremely important. Teachers are expected to provide evidence of student learning. Considering this, it is important that teachers keep a parent communication log of learning and their discussions of this learning with parents. This type of documentation helps administrators gauge communication in the school. It also helps provide a foundation for making hard decisions such as retention if students are struggling or if changes to Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans are needed.
Providing constructive communication with parents should be part of approaching issues such as students with disabilities, medical needs, social and emotional needs, instructional needs, and behavioral needs. Sometimes parents can pose challenges when approached with communication. Although educators don’t have the ability to change difficult parents, they do have the opportunity to document all communication. Ideally, teachers should document each communication that occurs. This will protect teachers from any false claims that may arise. It also creates an opportunity to remind parents of what you have communicated to them in the past.
Being confident is certainly a must when communicating with parents. Being too passive when addressing issues such as behavior or instructional deficits is a mistake. Communicating clear expectations can help teachers avoid any misunderstandings. By communicating exactly what parents need to hear in a timely manner, teachers are acting as knowledgeable professionals. Having a strong voice is important during tough conversations and often comes with time and practice. Some tips for being confident and professional when communicating with parents are as follows:
Assuming all parents are fluent in English is a mistake. Many students may speak fluent English, however, they may hear and/or speak another language at home. According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of Latino parents report speaking Spanish to their children at home. Considering this, it is important for educators to be mindful of cultural differences regarding students and their families and to accommodate for these differences. Good communication tools, such as Class Dojo, provide a translation feature so that non-English speaking parents can translate messages from teachers and respond to teachers with ease.
Taking things personally is often a natural response when communication doesn’t go as planned. Especially for educators who invest time and resources into their students. When others are judgmental, critical, or aggressive, it’s hard not to feel caught between the need to satisfy others and the need to make the best choice for students. When conversations don’t go as planned, it’s important to take a step back and remember not to take things personally. Ultimately, educators have to make decisions based on meeting the needs of students. By learning to put things in perspective and not to take things personally, educators can refrain from reacting when someone pushes their buttons and to make sound decisions.
Another mistake educators can make is failing to admit wrong doing. No one is perfect, not even teachers. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to ignore those mistakes. When a mistake is made, it’s best to act quickly by taking the high road and apologizing. When apologizing, explain what happened and try to stick to facts. Accept full responsibility and resist the temptation to point fingers. Lastly, assure parents that every effort will be made to avoid future mistakes.
Kelly is an assistant elementary school principal and holds an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.