Tips to Strengthen Parent Teacher Communication

By Myree Conway

Editor's note: Although the tips from Myree in this article are quite basic, they do highlight the importance of making the effort to draw parents into communicating with schools and teachers, and that while one would wish parents would be more involved in the education of their kids, schools have a responsibility, shared with parents, to work on ways to improve communication. Besides, it's an upbeat, positive article.

One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo. I am a big fan of Bruce the shark. He invites both Dori and Marlin (two little fish) to a meeting with his other shark friends, Anchor and Chum. The three sharks are meeting to encourage one another to stop eating fish. I especially love the part when they recite their membership pledge, "If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food."

The relationship between the three sharks and two fish begins as predator and prey but ends in a lasting caring friendship. Sometimes relationships between parents and teachers can be like this. We can view each other as either the shark or the small fish. If we are to change this image, we need to change our own viewpoint, and realize we are all in the same big ocean. We must remember that parents are our friends, not foes.

A strong and positive relationship between parents and teachers serves the best interest of the student. Communication throughout the year is essential to support student success and well being. It allows parents and teachers to work together to support student learning and success. Parents give teachers insights to student strengths and weaknesses which can be used as a starting place when the teacher observes and forms relationships with the student. Children whose parents actively participate in their education tend to do better in school and students tend to have a better attitude toward school.

Here are a few tips to help create effective and positive communication between the parent and teacher.

Tips for Effective Parent/Teacher Communication

Stay Positive
Want parents to actually read what you send home? Be encouraging and positive.

It is so easy to send home notes to parents explaining the various inappropriate behaviors of Johnny, but how often do we send a note home saying what a great day Johnny had? What a difference it will make in Johnny when he hears you called or sent a note home saying he helped his friends or did a great job on his spelling test. You never know what a little positive praise will do.

Avoid the "Junk Mail" Syndrome
I hate junk mail and don't even take the time to preview. I immediately file these unwanted papers in file 13 (i.e. the trash). Parents will do the same. The idea is to catch their eye!

Use attention grabbers, upbeat graphics, bold headings, boxes, and other forms of "decorations". This will ensure parents will notice your communication. You could also include a personal note, highlight items of importance (such as dates), add illustrations or have students decorate a trim.

Note: this is a great transition project for students: decorating stationary for teachers.

Use Familiar Language
Teachers should also be careful to write informally. While many parents have degrees, not all are in education and will be unfamiliar with educational jargon. You can't effectively communicate if parents need a dictionary to look up specific terms (ex. Johnny is experiencing difficulty with his phonemic awareness). Huh?

All written communication should use simple, familiar language, and short sentences. Be direct. Always communicate with respect and appreciation for parents and families. Be sensitive to cultural differences. Have letters or memos translated to families' first language. Be persistent and use different methods of communication.

Personalize Your Communication
Greet parents personally as they drop off or pick up students: This is informal and increases the comfort level between parents and teachers. This is not the time to discuss problems, but can be a time to set up an appointment. Try to contact parents by phone or email at least once during the grading period. A positive phone call or email inviting parents to a special event will increase parent's comfort level.

Start a biweekly or monthly newsletter. You can personalize by having students decorate the border, feature a "star student", recent class activities, pictures, highlights, student achievement, and/or include tips to help in various subjects. Send home weekly folders with student including class work, homework assignments, quizzes/tests, and announcements.

I keep my smart phone handy at all times so I can capture special activities during the day. Then I will email the pictures to the parents with a little story explaining the photo. (Important to note: I have parents sign permission slip allowing photos to be taken at beginning of year.) Send out daily emails informing parents of daily activities, homework assignments, announcements, etc. Set up a class web page or Facebook page.

Tips for Dealing With Tough Parents

Every teacher has encountered a parent who has a tendency to lay it on pretty thick. Some are concerned about grades, others want to know the exact reasons for your teaching method. Below are a few categories that parents can fall under along with some tips to help deal with these tough parents.

The Overzealous Parent
This is the parent who has TONS of questions. Make sure to take control and address the concerns by setting limits. Arrange a time for the parents to meet and discuss concerns privately.

The Bossy Parent
This is the parent who wants to tell YOU how to teach. Listen first- count to 10!

Make sure to stay professional, do not become defensive. Explain how you teach, supporting your choice of techniques, make copies of materials that address the concern, consider inviting parent to observe the class and see the teaching "in action". If this does not help, ask administrator to get involved.

The Chatty Parent
This is the parent who wants to talk DAILY. Give several times when you can meet and be subtle but insistent. If possible, arrange for some volunteer time for these parents.

You get a little extra help and they get to be involved in their child's learning for an hour or two. Most of the time, this is a parent who just really wants to be involved in his/her child's education. Sending home family activities/projects that go with a lesson is also a good way to keep parents involved in student learning.

The Concerned Parent
The Parent who thinks you assign TOO MUCH homework: Arrange for a meeting. Explain that you assign only enough homework to show what students are doing and to reinforce the day's lesson. Ask about the routine at home and where homework is done. Offer suggestions if parent is open.

The Angry Parent
This is the parent who is UPSET about the child's grades. When you meet, have gradebook available. Discuss what you observe in class, test scores, homework assignments, and missed assignments.

You may want to share tips to studying or organizing. Remind the parent that you do care about each student's success.

Tips to Bridge the Communication Gap
* Parents will be more supportive if you contact them as soon as a problem begins.
* Keep parents updated on child's progress.
* You can say NO to parents politely, gently, but firmly. You can say no and survive!
* Always keep notes/records of your communication in student's file - this is so important!
* Be organized and ready to talk to parent. Have notes with areas of concerns with samples of student work.
* Always begin with what the child does well. Only say what you know.
* Don't feel you have to report on every aspect of the curriculum. It is okay to say you don't know but offer to get that information and report back.
* Share a story or brief anecdote.
* Parents appreciate when you show you know the child outside of academics.

Hopefully these simple tips will help bridge the gaps between parents and teachers. Remember, we want parents to be our friends, not foes as we continue swimming in the big ocean together.

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