School does not begin in my district for another week. However, as all teachers know, parent communication begins well before students walk through the classroom door. As I was preparing to answer emails from parents of this year’s new batch of students yesterday, I found myself reflecting back on what I have learned about effective parent communication over more than thirty years of teaching. Yes, 30! Knowing that starting the off on the right foot with parents is paramount to a successful and pleasant year, I distilled my thinking into three main points, or keys.
Take the time to introduce yourself and your classroom in a vibrant, enthusiastic manner. When writing your first email, letter or blog post for parents, remember that for parents, sending a child to you each day is a big deal. They are counting on you to do your very best to care for and nurture that very special person. Present yourself and your classroom in an enthusiastic, happy manner and parents will begin the school year with a positive image of you even before their child walks through your door. What’s more, they will communicate that feeling to their child and the child’s excitement at being in your class will also be piqued, an added bonus! Click here for an example of this, a recent posting I made to my classroom blog.
No matter how tired you are or how badly your day has gone, always strike a positive tone when returning an email or phone call from a parent. I cannot stress this enough, even if what the parent has said or written irritates you, or you feel unfairly criticized. Starters such as, “Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and questions with me. I am really enjoying getting to know Suzie, and I can already see what a very (creative, kind, hardworking – choose a positive observation applicable to the child).” Or, “I am so glad that you contacted me. Working together is key to a great year for your child.” If you don’t have the energy to put into a carefully crafted response or you’re feeling too annoyed, respond when you feel more refreshed. But don’t wait too long, which leads to my third key to effective parent communication.
Respond to parent contact promptly, within 24 hours – sooner if you can. Over the years, parents have repeatedly told me how much they appreciate the promptness with which I respond to them. Doing so builds trust and good will. If the situation requires more time before I can fully respond, perhaps because I need to speak with other school staff or do some investigating with students, this is what I do: I thank the parent for their contact, explain that I need to do some checking and assure the parent that I will respond the moment I have more information. Then I make sure to follow through, another key to building a positive relationship. Even though the child is one among many you are charged with, to the parent that child is more precious than just about anyone in his or her life. Addressing a question or concern quickly not only calms the parent’s worries, it leaves the parent with a positive image of you as a caring, dedicated teacher – a “review” they will spread to other parents.
In my next post, I offer tips on how to share unpleasant news with parents and what to do when a parent is upset. If you go to the sidebar and follow my blog by email, you’ll automatically hear when I add a post here.
Thank you for your interest in my ideas. In addition to teaching, I create lessons for Teachers Pay Teachers. Visit my store to browse the products I offer, several of which are free. Two lesson packages of timely note are my newest, The United States Constitution, perfect for Constitution Day, coming quickly on September 17, and a perennial fall favorite Pumpkin Writing.
A graduate of Tufts University (BA Child Study) and the University of Southern Maine (MSEd. Educational Leadership), Ingrid Whitaker has been an elementary school teacher in Cape Elizabeth, Maine for more than 30 years. Ingrid has taught kindergarten and second grade in addition to 4th grade. Maine’s recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching and a finalist for Maine Teacher of the Year, Ingrid creates lessons for Lessons From the Classroom in addition to teaching. Her highly-rated, complete print-and-go lessons are available on a wide range of engaging topics. The mother of three grown daughters and a son, Ingrid lives in Wiscasset with her husband Ethan and their Maine Coon Cats, Mr. Bates and Mr. Tufts.