Hey hey, teacher friend!
We all know that keeping parents in the loop about what’s happening in our classroom and at school is a SUPER important part of being an amazing teacher. But, good GRACIOUS, who has time to chat with every one of our students’ parents every week?! VERY few of us. I SO GET IT. So, here are 11 tips to help you impress parents and administrators alike with your amazing communication skills. Haha! Here we go!
1. Get every parent’s correct contact information.
FIRST STINKIN’ THING: GET AN UP-TO-DATE EMAIL ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER FOR EVERY PARENT. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to call or email a parent and the information is old or inaccurate. So, at Meet the Teacher Night or Open House, collect that information in at LEAST 2-3 places. I know that sounds redundant, but if you have it written down on 2 or 3 forms, you’re more likely to get accurate information. Also, let parents know that you’ll be USING that information to send updates and information consistently throughout the year so they understand how crucial it is for you to have a way to contact them that will definitely get through.
2. Send group emails with updates and quick information.
This one seems obvious, but group emails are such a quick, simple way to help parents feel like they’re being involved and informed about what’s happening in the classroom with their kiddo every day. Sending email is also an awesome way to keep track of your communication with parents (since we all have or WILL have that parent who tells our principal “I never heard about that grade before!” or “I had no idea this event was even happening!” Pull up that email and BAM…proof to show that you’re a rockstar communicator and there’s no denying it.
I send quick emails to remind about small things like, “Hey y’all! Please remember Friday is a half-day and dismissal is at 12:00pm. Hope you have a great weekend with your kiddos!” But also send emails that have a lot of information about the coming week or even month if it’s a busy one. If you’re concerned about sharing parents’ emails with other parents, address the email to yourself and then copy and paste all those compiled parent emails into the blind copy space.
3. Consistently send newsletters.
Sending out a newsletter with upcoming events, important dates, current learning objectives, and any other important information is an amazingly easy way to keep everyone in the loop. When I taught kindergarten, I sent out a newsletter once a week (either through email or a physical paper and sometimes BOTH) and parents totally LOVED it. So many of them made a point to let me know that they appreciated knowing what was happening in our classroom each week and it was helpful in keeping them involved. It was SO worth the extra 10 minutes of work to make sure everyone felt included and on the same page moving forward.
The best way I can suggest to make this happen is to buy or create a newsletter template and make writing your newsletter a part of your weekly (or monthly) routine. Choose one day each week (or month) where you change out a few key details on your newsletter template, save it, and either print a master copy or email it out to your group of parents. Simple, quick, stress-free.
Also, you don’t have to send them every week if that sounds stressful. Once a week, once every two weeks, once a month…you know yourself best, so do what’s best for you and what you know you’ll actually follow through with. It’s much better to say you’ll send out a monthly newsletter and end up sending it 1-2 times a month than to say you’ll send a weekly newsletter and only send it out once a month. Decide how often you want to send one and be consistent. :)
4. Only respond when you’re calm.
Most people who become teachers do so because they are passionate about teaching and truly care about kids and their education. Most parents love their kids fiercely and will do anything to get what’s best for them in life. SO…there are BOUND to be times when a parent says or does something that completely ruffles your feathers and throws you off your game. I’m fairly certain colleagues have seen smoke shooting from my ears on an few occasions. However, I would strongly recommend that you wait to respond to them (if it’s an email or phone call) until you’re feeling calm and clear about what you want to say in response. Responding to them when you’re feeling angry or hurt or unappreciated usually ends with you saying something you didn’t REALLY want to say, but didn’t have the self-control to hold back because you were emotionally worked up. I’ve waited as long as 24 hours to respond to situations that made me feel upset because I wanted to make sure I responded professionally, kindly, and clearly. When everyone has calmed down again, you’ll be super proud of yourself for taking the time you needed to relax and communicate in a collected manner instead of spewing all the crazy responses that popped into your mind when you were angry.
5. Give parents all the information you have.
I’m naturally what I like to refer to as an “over-communicator”. I like to make sure everyone is on the same page and has the same level of understanding as much as I possibly can….and then double check, JUST to make sure I didn’t misunderstand. HAHA. So, that being said, giving parents as much information about an event or situation is a great way to avoid confusion and not have to answer the same question an obscene amount of times. Mention dates, times, durations, locations, attire, what to bring, what not to bring…all the relevant information YOU would want to know about the event, share it them. Tell them simple directions how to get to the gym or include the email address for the music teacher so they can direct questions about the music concert to her. If it’s helpful, legal, public knowledge, share it with them! They’ll be grateful for your thoroughness.
** Quick Note: If you’re explaining a behavior situation in detail, be sure to only refer to their own child by name and not use any specifics when referring to other students to protect everyone’s legal rights and privacy. :)
6. Pick a great app.
We can do so many incredible things using technology, including communicate super effectively! There are a ton of great communication apps out there for interacting with your students’ parents or you can set up a class website to post information to as well.
My personal absolute favorite app to use to communicate with parents is SeeSaw. This app allows you to send out memos and reminders to all parents who have downloaded the app and are logged into your class’ account with a unique login. What’s even MORE fun is that each of your students can have their own unique “feed” where they can upload things like videos, photos, and other notes and information about things they’re doing in class using iPads! Parents can check in on their own child’s feed any time and see the great work they’ve been up to during the day. Both parents and teachers can add comments on students work, so that’s another great way to give students AND parents academic feedback! So many good things!
7. Send information many ways.
I’ve found that sending out information ONLY one way isn’t a very effective way to make sure every parent hears about what’s happening in your classroom. You only send home a flyer or handout and THAT kid shoves it in his desk to find at the end of the year. You only send an email and it accidentally goes to spam! You only update the classroom app or website and those few parents without smart phones or computers miss the memo. So, whenever possible, send home information a few times and in a few different ways. My school used to even print out stickers to stick on kids’ shirts as they left school the day before a big event, like “Field Day is Tomorrow” or “Early Dismissal at 12:00pm” with the corresponding dates. BRILLIANT.
8. Write notes on behavior calendars.
This is a quick, simple way to make sure parents know you’re paying attention to their kiddo throughout the week. Behavior calendars can be used in a whole bunch of ways, but however you’re using them, I’d definitely recommend finding some time near the end of the day when you can write a positive note or two, as well as address the specifics behaviors for anyone who had a “hard day” that day. Your note can be a quick smiley face, a “You’re such a great friend!”, or a “Had trouble following directions today. :(“ Jotting a quick note is just a simple way to reinforce to parents that you are paying attention to their kiddo and that you want parents to be clear about what happened at school that day. I would recommend writing a note on each student’s behavior calendar at least once or twice a week, but definitely more often if something especially wonderful or especially challenging is happening.
9. Set and communicate during what times you’ll respond to emails.
This is something I’ve learned throughout the years that’s just a good way to make sure you’re covered in the event that someone is dissatisfied with your response time to emails. You have a life outside of your teaching career and when something time sensitive comes up and parents feel you “didn’t respond quickly enough”, this is a good way to keep yourself in the clear. I usually tell parents that I check emails from 7am until 9pm. This way, they know that if they send me an email at 9:27pm about a missing assignment that’s due tomorrow, I’m not going to respond to that email until the next morning in most cases. There is the occasional time that I’ll respond to an email later or early than I normally do if it happens to fit into my schedule, but that’s not the norm I’ve set up for my students' parents to expect from me. Doing this also gives you some time each morning and each night to not have that nagging responsibility that you need to check and respond to emails so you can just take a breath for a minute.
10. Be proactive!
So, Sarah has a super hard day at school. She comes in late because she missed the bus, she’s hungry because she skipped breakfast, and she forgot her homework. She’s impatient with her classmates, speaking disrespectfully to you, and is just in an all-around “off” mood. Recess rolls around and Ben kicks the ball she was playing with and that’s as much as she can take. She shoves him to the ground and yells “THAT’S MINE!” at the top of her lungs. YIKES. Needless to say, she needs some time to breathe on the sidelines and chat with you about what’s going on, why she’s feeling so upset today, and an appropriate consequence for her behavior.
Now, you have two options. Option 1: wait for the email, phone call, or in person visit from her parents in the next 3-6 hours OR, Option 2: write a quick note on her behavior calendar, send an concerned email, or even give her parents a quick call after the kids are dismissed? I’d for SURE recommend option 2. It let’s parents know that you care about their child, want what’s best for her, and are honestly concerned with her behavior that day. Letting them know what went on from another adult’s perspective is super important too, because sometimes kids can forget key elements in the causes and effects from the day. ;) The short version: Being proactive is a super effective way to remind parents of how much you care for their child, are paying attention to what’s happening with each student every day, and that you’re on the same team, ready and willing to support them in any way.
11. Communicate in a way that builds relationships.
Regardless of how you choose to communicate with parents this year, always keep your relationships at the front of your mind and heart. Your relationships with your students and their parents are some of the most important ones you’ll form this year at school. Ask them about themselves, learn what is going on in their lives, connect with them about your favorite restaurant or that crazy new movie…whatever quick bits of time you can spare really helps build your relationship.
The bottom line is that parents love their kids and they want to know that you love their kids too. They want to know you’re on the same team and are working together to help their child learn and grow. And being on the same page with parents and partnering together to help teach kids life and academic lessons is such an ideal place to be! I’d encourage you to do whatever small things you can to build trust and partnership in your relationships with your students and their parents. It’s always worth it.
SO, there you go…11 tips for communicating with parents like a ROCKSTAR. Haha! You may do a lot of these tips with parents already, but do you think you could choose one or two tips from this post to implement this year? Or, if you already do ALL of these things, maybe pick one to focus on doing it better than you’ve done it in the past? I think that some of the greatest teachers are the ones who keep learning small ways to improve what they do…the best teachers never stop learning, right? :)
So grateful for you, friend! Really really. Let me know in the comments if you have any other amazing communication tips that you’d add to this list. I love hearing from you!
Enjoy all your moments today!