As teachers, we are constantly evaluating our practice and looking for ways to improve. After over a decade of teaching, I’ve changed everything from my procedures over pencils to how I handle the ever-evolving world of technology.
One of the biggest areas I’ve grown in is how I communicate with parents. In my early years of teaching, I often felt I needed to sugarcoat things—I thought parents only wanted to hear about how wonderful their child was. Doing so didn’t always paint a clear picture of what was truly going on in the classroom, though. As I grew more confident in my understanding of the learning process, I began communicating more consistently with parents.
4 Tips for Better Communications With Parents
1. Build relationships from the beginning. Start with a positive message to set the right tone at the beginning of the year. As soon as I get my class roster, I send out a message introducing myself and asking parents what their child enjoys about school and what’s challenging for them. I follow up with a phone call as well.
These conversations provide good insight into my students and set up the framework for working together. Parents have a wealth of knowledge about their children and like talking about them, so providing an avenue to do so is a win-win.
2. Communicate struggles early. In general, parents would rather know that their child has areas where they need more support.
When you notice a child struggling or taking more time to grasp a concept, pass that information along to parents in a kind and supportive way. A simple note saying, “Xavier struggled a bit on his fractions exit ticket in math today. We went over the answers together and will continue to work on adding fractions. Just wanted to let you know,” gives parents the knowledge that their child is still working on a skill, and you are aware that they haven’t mastered the skill yet.
These quick messages can go a long way in giving parents insight into their students as learners and showing our understanding of where their child is in the learning process. A short message now can save a long conversation later.
3. Give parents the opportunity to help. Parents want to support their children and will jump at the chance to be able to. Often, having difficult conversations with parents gives them the chance to help. My daughter, like many kids, had an uptick in anxiety after Covid. It wasn’t until her school reached out to us that we realized this anxiety was also showing up at school. Once we knew that, we were able to provide additional resources and quickly got her back on track.
In my English language learner class, I noticed that one of my students didn’t seem to be picking up sounds as quickly as others; a quick trip to the nurse’s office for a hearing test indicated possible hearing loss. Once the parents were made aware of this, they were able to fix the problem with hearing aids, and the student’s speaking skills have greatly improved. Teachers can’t solve every problem alone: Collaborating with parents can help students achieve greater success.
4. Don’t forget the positives. Pointing out positives is equally important and can show that you know and care about your students beyond their test scores. Parents don’t see their children working on group projects or interacting with academic material in the same ways that teachers do. When teachers communicate strengths and unique talents, it equips parents to build on these areas at home. Communicating the positives can let parents know you see their whole child. Here are some examples:
- One year I had a student who was an amazing writer. He was very quiet and shy but full of ideas and had a remarkable way with words. I shared with his parents a story he had written, and they were floored. They had no idea that he had this hidden talent! They enrolled him in creative writing classes, and he grew even more in his craft.
- Every child has positives they bring to the classroom, and sometimes they might not be directly related to academics. Recently a student who’s a struggling reader organized our classroom library beautifully. I took pictures and sent them to the parents, who were thrilled to know their child was helpful and building a positive rapport with books.
- Positive communication can be particularly helpful in building relationships with parents of English language learner students. One student had recently moved to the United States. I sent a picture of them smiling while engaged in classwork, and the parent was happy to see that her child was adjusting well to school.
- The other day, I sent home a quick message sharing that one of my students was showing great kindness toward his classmates, particularly to a new student, and was making sure they were included and knew their way around the building. The parent wrote back that it was a breath of fresh air to hear their child was doing something good because they’ve had a slew of negative messages.
When we see and acknowledge the good in our students, even with a quick photo and short note home, students often bring more of the good into the classroom.
Tools to support better communication with parents
When communicating with anyone, it’s important to know the best tool to reach them. With all parents, it’s worth considering both whether text, email, or phone is the right method, and the language that the parents prefer to communicate in. For parents who use text as a primary way of communication, a great tool is Talking Points. Talking Points is a free app, which can also be used on the web, that translates messages into 144 languages automatically and is sent as a text message to parents’ phones.
Another popular app is ClassDojo, which allows parents to translate messages into one of 36 different languages. For parents who don’t text or perhaps have limited literacy, many school districts use LanguageLine. With this service, you call a number that puts you in contact with someone who can do a live translation of a phone conversation.
It can be difficult to know when and how to reach out to parents, but honest, caring communication is the best route and usually well received. Some teachers worry that parents might get angry or try to pin the problems on the teacher. But if you develop caring relationships and are sincere in your communication, that can go a long way in building a partnership in which both parent and teacher are on the same team.