The art of communication is the language of leadership.
Back to School Night was your first opportunity to build relationships with parents and guardians. We want to show you how to continue to increase parent involvement with four tips for better communication. At Back to School Night, it’s almost like you’re preaching to the choir in terms of sharing your vision. The parents and guardians who attended will probably regularly engage with you. You may have already heard from them once or twice with questions and comments. Hopefully these relationships are ones that you will be able to continue to grow throughout this school year.
The parents and guardians who were unable to make it still need to hear your vision and get a chance to meet you. Luckily there are many ways to easily make this happen through email or phone. It’s a professional and kind way to show them you’re looking forward to meeting them and that they are a part of your classroom community. Parents are unable to attend evening events for various reasons. It could have been work, no child care, a language barrier or general unease at being in a school setting. These are not reasons to think that they don’t want to hear what you have to say or know what will be happening in your class this year. Reaching out to all parents again will show them that you care and that you will look for ways to keep them informed all year.
SET THE STAGE FOR SUCCESSFUL INVOLVEMENT
Quick Recap and Request for Intel
What did you talk about your back to school event? Did you share important dates, events, and expectations? The concept of ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them,” works really well in this situation. By sending out a recap email to all parents, whether or not they attended the back to school event, you’re proving that you are serious about your vision and good at communication. I promise that parents will not be sorry to have another chance to hear about your plans for the year.
Starting proactive communication habits is a game changer for teachers. An article from Education World discusses a couple of ways to start up communication with parents from the beginning of the year. Allowing parents the chance to really tell you about their child is powerful. Natalie Schwartz, author of the book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society, suggests teachers “cultivate positive relationships with parents from the beginning of the school year.” Creating a simple form at the start of the year when everyone is energized can help start the conversation. It can read something like, “Tell me five things I should know about your child that will help me work with him or her this year.” This approach allows you to get in the head of parents and anticipate what you can expect from the student and the parent. These forms are very telling and set the stage for open conversations that will happen throughout the school year.
Ask for what works best for them
Parents are overwhelmed with information each week, from parent portals to email, flyers, texts, phone calls, etc. (We know you are too! ARGGG!) Reaching out to parents and asking what method of communication works best for them is a great idea. It allows them to opt in and respond in a more timely manner from the very beginning. An easy way to do this is to create a survey on google forms. Ask only three or four questions that are fairly simple and will take the parents just a few minutes to answer. You‘ll want to guide them in a direction you know works well for you, but is open enough to give them options.
This gesture shows parents that you want them to be involved and that you’re conscious of what it’s like for them as a parent. If the goal is more parent engagement, this is an necessary step.
Establish your Communication Rhythm
Will you be reaching out to parents once or twice a week? How much time will they need to work with their students each day? How much support do they need to provide for specific projects outside of the classroom? Giving parents a picture of weekly or monthly time commitments is so helpful. It is another great way to get caregivers involved with what you’re doing, especially when you need home support. Just about every family out there has a master family calendar. Whether it’s paper or electronic, the more specifically parents can add items to that calendar, the better. If you know that you’ll be expecting students to give current event presentations on the last Friday of every month, send that information out so it can make it on the family calendar. If you know that you expect every Tuesday to be “Bring a Book from Home Day” spell that out for parents so they have a chance to get that habit established ASAP.
Be Clear about what they should be doing for you
Parents want to help and to know what’s going on. Often times there are just too many options and choices confronting them. The easiest thing to do ends up being the “I’ll figure that out later” approach and then the moment is gone and the world marches on. The more explicitly you state what you’re looking for the parents to do, the more readily they will do it.
If you want students to fill out a homework log each night, send a sample of what it should look like by filling out a few lines. If you are starting a new section or project that will take a few weeks to complete, send out a timeline with milestones and expectations for each stage of the project. The more clearly you state your expectations and answers, the more questions will be answered before they’re even asked, and the more buy-in and engagement you’ll get from caregivers and students.