“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.”
-Ecclesiastes 4:9 NIV
The quote above rings true for so many reasons. As a teacher, we only have students for such as short time and then they move on to the next grade. Parents have a wealth of knowledge and understanding of their children that we could never have on our own. Parents and educators need to be on the same team to help the student’s succeed. Today we will look at ways to strengthen and enhance relationships between the school and home. When we all work together, the reward for our labor will be a child who will be equipped for life outside of school.
What Are Barriers To Communicating with Families?
There are can be multiple barriers when trying to work with families. One barrier that might exist between the parent and the school is availability. For example, the parent/guardian(s) might work at night and need to sleep throughout the day. Making contact or scheduling a meeting could feel a lot like playing phone tag.
Another barrier that teachers might have in communicating with all parents is time. Teachers have a lot of responsibilities such as planning for lessons, grading assignments, meetings, and oh I forgot, they also have to teach all day! Finding time can be difficult and often requires time after school in order to sit down and have a meaningful conversation. By waiting until the end of the school day to make communication with parents also cuts into your family time after school. Somehow we have to find balance and find the right time to communicate effectively with our families.
One way to see what preferences parents/guardians have is a quick survey. This survey could ask what time of day they would like to be contacted and by what method such as email, phone, text, etc. By knowing your families well and their preferences, you are likely to get better and more timely responses from them.
Start With The Positive
The first communication that we as educators should have with families should be positive. At the beginning of the school year, it is a good idea to get in contact with as many families as you can to introduce yourself and say a couple of things you enjoy about their child. Remind them that if they need anything that they can always call, email, etc.
If the students participate in an extra-curricular activity and you are able to attend, try to make it to one or two events this year. This would be especially meaningful to families of students who are struggling in school. Make conversation with the parents at the event. This should not be a mini parent-teacher conference, but just let them know that you enjoy having them in class and that you enjoyed seeing them perform outside of school.
These types of gestures go a long way with families. If they see you are going out of your way to see their child do well, they will want to be more on board with suggestions you have for their child. Establish and keep these lines of communication open throughout the year.
Open Up Lines Of Communication
Even if you have had a rocky start to the school year with some parents, it is never too late to mend those lines of communication. Go back to starting with a positive contact or two to build that rapport back up. If your students are younger, a quick note in their daily planner might be the way to go. Other families might prefer a weekly email. When I get requests for weekly email updates, I typically have the parents reach out to me each week and then I would respond back. I let the parents know up front that with all that is going on at school it is likely that I will forget. Having the parents send in a note, a phone call, or an email will be a good reminder to get back to them.
If you are doing daily or weekly check-ins with families, start with something that went well this week and then move on to concerns. Some families have had a long history of only hearing negative things about their child and so they are more resistant to hearing from the school.
Preparing For Tough Conversations
If you are planning a meeting with a parent that could bring up some tough topics such as academic performance, behaviors, and/or referral for special education, keep some of these ideas in mind to help you and the families prepare for the conversation:
- Discuss the issue ahead of time- Ensure that the family knows about any issues ahead of time. Nothing is worse then having to come in for a meeting that they knew nothing about.
- Bring data to the discussion– Have family friendly reports available and explain and scores in family friendly language. Have a report that the parents can take home.
- Start with Strengths– Every student has something positive to offer and it puts everyone at ease to start with something positive.
- Ask About Parent Concerns- Ask families what they hope to get out of the meeting and let their concerns be heard.
- Help Parents Become Active Participants– Ask parents for their input and help to offer up suggestions to move forward.
- Action Plan and Accountability– All parties should walk away with a plan of what the school will be doing and the family will be doing prior to the next follow up meeting.
- Follow Up– Set a date to come back together to see how everything is going and this keeps everyone accountable for their tasks they have committed to in the action plan.
There will always be some families that will not engage with the school for one reason or another. Most families, however, want to work with the school to help their child reach their full potential. Using the guidelines above will help navigate the waters through crucial conversations with families as you help advocate for students in your building.