Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Parent-Teacher Communication

I came home from class last night to find one very excited kid. Sadly, it wasn't the arrival of his mother that prompted these feelings. Rather, it was the phone call he'd received a bit earlier from his second grade teacher. William has not met her yet (school doesn't start until next week), so he was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with her.

Parent-teacher communications are always tough for new teachers. However, there are some simple things teachers can do to lay the foundation for good communication. Here are a few of them.
Learn about the kids and where they come from. I always tell my new teachers that one of the things they should do when they take a job is to drive around the neighborhood that feeds their school. It will tell them a lot about their kids. Amy at My Breakfast Platter does this idea one better. She visits the homes of her kids before the start of school.

Start early. Send your students a postcard or give them a phone call before the first day of school. This lets them and their parents know that you have already taken an interest in them. This type of brief, early communication can start your year on a good note.

Begin communication on a positive note.
It's so easy to send a note or pick up the phone when something has gone wrong. Parent's of kids who receive lots of communications of this sort often "tune-out" or just get desensitized to it. The tough conversations are easier to have if you've had positive communications first. This means we have to recognize the good things kids do. Jenny at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It, shares a story about just how important it is to send home positive praise.

Make parents partners. Parents are not the enemy, though there are some in the teaching profession that view them this way. We need to work harder to make parents our partners in the process of educating kids. One way to do this is to begin those difficult conversations with the words "I need your help." Too often teachers begin by talking about all the things that are going wrong.

Update regularly. Keeping parents informed about what is happening in class is good way to help build strong relations. Newsletters (weekly or monthly) inform families about areas of study and classroom successes. It can also be a place to ask for volunteers and invite parents with expertise in an area to come in and share with the class. These can take the more traditional paper format, or they can be electronic. I like paper because I'm never sure if every family has internet access at home.

Keep good records. When it comes time to meet with parents, data is invaluable. I can't stress enough the importance of keeping good records so that what you have to share with parents is specific. Offering specific examples generally leads to more constructive conversations and solutions.

Remember to say thank you. My mother was right. Never underestimate the importance of a thank you note. Get in the habit of sending your thanks when parents volunteer or send gifts. Most importantly, do it in a timely manner.
Do you have some additional ideas you would like to share? Please do. My new teachers and I would love to hear them.


  1. My daughter starts 1st grade next week. I really liked her K teacher last year, but on the whole, the school admin/board does not seem to welcome parent involvement or input - a very frustrating thing for me (esp as a former teacher myself). One thing to add to your list under "parent partners" - how specifically can parent volunteers be helpful - some specific direction, tasks, classroom needs etc.

  2. GREAT reminders! Thanks!!!

  3. Thanks for your clarity of language and purpose. I'd like to reference your article in a lesson plan that I'm developing for a graduate Oceanography class where I'm a participant.

    I believe that it's always a good idea to remind ALL teachers and parents what makes good practice when teaching and modeling learning. Joining with parents to help their children reach as far as possible in their quest for learning is a high purpose for all of us.

    If it's OK, I'd like to make mention of what I call a "hotlist" for the topic and the pedagogy. I create a hot link and share a short blurb about the link, usually a couple of sentences.

    I'd like your permission to include a link to this blog article.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Sam. Thanks for writing. Feel free to link to this and any other post you need.