Effective communication is critical to building successful relationships with your students’ caregivers. However, communication is not always the easiest and most comfortable skill to develop. For many educators, preparing for complex or difficult conversations can be stressful. Luckily, there are simple things you can do to anticipate a successful and effective conversation, even when it’s about a difficult topic. Here are four simple strategies for you to incorporate into your communication.
Consistent, proactive communication is paramount.
Don’t wait until the parent/guardian-teacher conference to start the relationship. More often than not, communication breaks down because it doesn’t actually happen until there is a problem. You know who won’t tolerate that? Parents and caregivers. So, try being proactive by looking for small opportunities to check-in and relationship-build. Send an email to all parents or send a note home in the daily folder with a reminder that you are available to talk about any questions or concerns. Include the best ways to communicate with you, e.g. email vs. phone vs. notebook.
Other ways to proactively communicate and relationship-build is to reach out individually to caregivers with anything from small successes, something adorable or hilarious the student said this week, or a head’s up on unusual behavior, such as more fatigue than normal or absence of homework submissions. Will this cut into your schedule each week and require deliberate and consistent time management? Yes. Will your caregivers appreciate this brief yet very personal touchpoint from you? Yes!
Understand your communication style.
Knowing how you are perceived when things get intense is important to a successful conversation. There are multiple styles of communication and knowing how you react is so helpful. Think of your communication style like clothes. You can and should change them to fit the situation.
There are four general styles we like to use to help us think about how we’re communicating with people: Controller, Promoter, Analyzer, and Supporter. Which style do you tend to rely on most in your communication? Which one do you lean towards during emotional or stressful communication? Do you find that you can easily adapt when the scenario requires flexibility in style? Consider the different styles while diving even deeper with the following questions:
- Do you use humor or sarcasm when things get intense? How do you think that would work in this situation?
- Do you have a more passive personality and tend to avoid confrontation? How can you make sure that you’re sharing your concerns if the caregivers get defensive?
- Do you tend to be more spontaneous or impulsive? Think back to similar conversations to see where you might plan aspects of this specific conversation to keep you focused on the main ideas.
Keep the goal in mind.
As with most things, communication must start with your ‘why.’ When reaching out to a caregiver, let them know upfront what you’re hoping to accomplish with this conversation. Getting an email or a call that is too vague can be stressful for them and possibly put them in a defensive position before you even connect. Clarifying questions like the ones below can start things off on the right foot.
- Why are you requesting a conversation?
- What is the general concern you have at this moment?
- What is the best way to connect with this situation?
- If there is a behavioral concern, be ready to talk about the expectations that you’ve discussed and set in place with the class.
- What do you hope happens after this conversation with the parents?
Follow up and follow through.
No matter how you follow up, (e.g. email, phone or in-person), the most important thing is that you follow through with what you promised. In your follow-up, be sure to recap the conversation in order to ensure you’re both on the same page and heard the same things. Also, tell them specifically what you will be doing next or to resolve this issue. Your next step could be a meeting or a new strategy with the student and a follow-up on how it worked. Whatever your next step is, communicate what it is, and then follow up from there as much as needed to continue to keep the lines of communication open and functional.
You can be a strong communicator, even during challenging times.
Strong communication with caregivers will make your job so much easier. Conversely, poorly thought-out communication will absolutely impede your ability to develop positive relationships with parents. As there are a few months behind us already this school year, now is a perfect time to assess your communication skills and make a few changes as needed. It’s also a wonderful time to check in with caregivers to make sure they are feeling confident in how you are supporting and engaging their children.