Parent Communication is vital for teachers to have a successful year. The number one thing to remember is making sure your communication is two-way. Of course, you need to be communicating with parents, but make sure parents are clear on how to communicate with you.
There are 3 main ways teachers should communicate with parents: digitally, paper, and physically. I’ve listed the pros and cons of each form. Use your best teacher judgment about which methods you’ll choose and always keep the population of the community you serve in mind.
Digital Parent Communication
Pros: Using a class website is a great way to have a one-stop place for all information. Google Sites is a great, easy to use website platform that’s free if you have a Gmail account. I have a place for important dates, reminders, classroom, and school policies. It’s also a place where I put different links for students to access at school and at home and list homework for students
Cons: Most people use a mobile device to access the internet. Your website may not be as easy to navigate as the desktop version. Also, keep in mind that not every family will have access to the internet or be able to use their cellar data to check a class website.
Pros: Email is a great way to have two-way communication with parents that also allows you to document the communication. I like to inform parents at the beginning of the year that email is the easiest way to communicate. I collect email addresses during meet the teacher and send weekly emails to parents with our weekly newsletter and any important updates. Most parents have smartphones and email is free, so I encourage parents to sign up for one if they do not already have an account.
Cons: Many people are flooded with numerous emails each day and may not always check their emails regularly. Oftentimes, you may not be able to communicate with parents via email.
Pros: Using an online platform to communicate behavior with parents is also great. Often parents can get notifications in real-time and see how their child is doing each day
Cons: Parents don’t always see the full picture and may emphasize this more than they should.
Paper Parent Communication
Pros: Communication with parents via paper is still very important. Making sure you know the community you serve is important in deciding if you can just communicate digitally or just through paper or a combination of both. Sending home weekly paper newsletters is a great way to keep parents informed of things happening in your classroom. Many parents can hang it on the fridge to keep track of those important dates.
Cons: Many schools now have copy limits and restrictions, so you will need to consider this when deciding how often you will send home a paper newsletter. Paper copies are also easier for students to misplace and you don’t always know if the papers are shared with parents.
Pros: This gives parents a concrete way of seeing homework and behaviors each day. For many years, I created a table in a Word document to communicate both homework and behavior. I’ve also used school-issued agendas, to communicate these things as well.
Cons: A paper version needs to be updated each day for behavior, possibly taking up class time. You’ll also need to consider how you will collect/return the paper to students daily? This would also require copies and the concern for misplaced papers just like the paper newsletters.
Sending home graded papers will be another area of communication you need to consider. Check with your school/district on any policies to be sure you’re handling it appropriately. I send home student papers each with a form to document communication. It includes a place for me to communicate grades, but also work habits. It has a place for the parent’s signature and a place for the parent to communicate on the back.
Pros: Parents can see exactly what students scored and may have missed. It keeps parents from being surprised about student grades when report cards go home.
Cons: Students and parents don’t always return the paper in a timely manner. Your district may not allow you to send home all papers.
Physical Parent Communication
Pros: While digital and paper communication is great, sometimes a phone call is just as important. Many times tone and understanding can be lost through written text, so it’s especially important to discuss a more serious matter.
Cons: Documentation is extremely important for phone calls since you won’t have a paper trail with digital and paper communication.
Pros: Events are a wonderful way to encourage families to participate. Sometimes it helps parents to see how much you love and care for their child. It’s also a great way to build those relationships.
Cons: Parents may think this is a good time to have lengthy conversations about their child. Not all parents can attend school/class events because of work schedules.
Pros: Most schools/districts require some form of parent/teacher conference. This is a great time to sit down and have a good conversation about a child’s academic and behavioral progress. It’s also easy to communicate a lot of information in a fairly small amount of time.
Cons: Individual conferences can take a lot of time when your class sizes are 20+ students. Conferences also require more preparation than most other types of parent communication.
Documentation is extremely important when it comes to communicating with parents. My best advice is to save everything! Keep a designated drawer for any type of written paper communication with parents. I have a folder in my email that I save all email communication with parents. I keep detailed notes during phone calls or parent conferences. In over 15 years of teaching, I’ve only needed to refer back to something a handful of times. But I was so very thankful that I had kept such good documentation because you just never know.
Parents often come with their own background knowledge of school and education. School may have been a poor experience for them. They may have other stressful life situations that don’t allow them to be on top of things. But none of these factors mean they love their child any less. The majority of parents want their children to be successful in school, they just may not know how to show that to you properly.
Parents are a vital component in education and it’s part of our job as teachers to communicate effectively with them. I also personally believe that it’s our job to show parents that we know and love their children just as much as they do.