George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

7 Ways to Promote Positive Communication With Families

Teachers and administrators can use positive messages to strengthen the link between families and the school.

April 23, 2024
JakeOlimb / iStock

One of the most meaningful and effective ways to improve rapport with families is by contacting them with positive news about their child. As I write in my new book, On the Same Team: Bringing Educators and Underrepresented Families Together, positive communication systems are one of a handful of high-leverage practices that can help us build more cohesive and trusting school communities. 

Making positive phone calls is both a proven pathway to strengthen relationships with families and one of the best strategies to increase student learning. For instance, frequent communication increased the likelihood that students would complete their homework by 40 percent and decreased teachers’ needing to redirect students’ attention to tasks by 25 percent. Yet 59 percent of public school parents reported never having received a phone call home from their children’s school during the previous year.

Looking back on my nine years as a principal and assistant principal, making positive calls was the most rewarding practice our staff engaged in to enhance ties with families and motivate our students.

And it doesn’t need to be a phone call—in my current role leading the family partnerships department for a district with 56 schools, I’ve seen administrators and teachers engage in positive communication in a host of dynamic ways. Some school leaders I know send positive emails or texts, or give their staff time to write positive postcards. It is easy for principals, assistant principals, and deans to send a positive email message to a student’s family in the moment during a classroom observation in which that student has stood out. Staff quickly embrace the joy and meaning of positive outreach to families when time is built in for them to send texts, write postcards, or make phone calls. 

7 Tips for Positive Communication

1. Choose a communication strategy that works for you and the families: Think about what type of communication your students’ families would most appreciate but also what is easiest for you, so that you can stay committed to positive outreach on an ongoing basis. Ask families at the start of the school year the best way to communicate with them. For those of you with fewer students, consider making a welcome phone call to each of your students’ families. For secondary schools, develop a template that can be used to send a personalized text or email to each family. 

2. Have a script that makes your communication straightforward: Here is a sample to draw upon: “Hi, this is (your name) calling from (name of school) with good news about (name of student). They received a positive note because (great thing they did). We’re really proud of (student’s name). They will bring the positive note home so that the rest of the family can also offer congratulations.” 

It’s important to start with the fact that you’re calling with good news, since schools’ historical lack of positive outreach has led many families to feel worried upon seeing a call coming in from the school.

3. Set a time for this kind of outreach: For instance, you might designate 10 minutes during your Thursday planning period to make two or three calls or write a handful of postcards. Many seasoned practitioners have found it effective to batch a handful of messages at a time. School leaders can also carve out the time for staff to engage in these best practices in order for them to be implemented and sustainable.

For instance, at one school, the principal “cancels” the last 15 minutes of a monthly staff meeting and instead designates the time for all staff to make three or four positive phone calls. These 15 minutes alone, which grew out of a Families and Educators Together team meeting, produce more than 100 family contacts in just a quarter of an hour.

4. Track which families you call and when: One approach is to utilize a class roster and place a check mark next to each student’s name each time you complete a positive outreach message. Another pathway is to identify specific students each week that you will celebrate and look for a precise moment when they are shining, and keep a spreadsheet of each outreach opportunity. Ideally, the majority of families at a school will receive at least one positive call per school year.

5. Consider recognizing acts of kindness and strong character, rather than solely academic performance: It is important preparation for students to be recognized beyond academic achievement. Whether your school has a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system that highlights specific traits or you have qualities you prioritize in your own classroom, look for those small moments when students are demonstrating positive behaviors.

6. Publicly display the positive notes: Think about posting your notes on a bulletin board for a few weeks and then distributing them to students to take home. This fosters a positive school culture, as students’ acts of excellence are consistently visible, and leads to a second round of celebrations as the student brings the complimentary note home to their family. 

7. Do not allow language to be a barrier in engaging in positive communication outreach: If calling, draw upon a colleague or use your district’s interpretation system, and if you are sending a positive text, use an app such as TalkingPoints so that your message is automatically translated into the home language of each family. It is crucial that our own linguistic limitations or biases around which families will be easier to reach do not lead to inequitable outreach efforts. 

There is a Japanese proverb that says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.” We accelerate relationships and trust when we carve out a few moments to celebrate our students and forge stronger connections with their families. 

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