As we head into the new year, it’s important to revisit some of the main strategies educators can use to foster positive connections with their students’ parents and caregivers. It’s known that everyone — students, teachers, and parents — benefits when honest and trusting connections are established; but how do we continue them once the buzz of the new school year wears off and burnout lingers? Here are five great tips for cultivating positive relationships with parents and caregivers.
- Set up listening conferences within first two weeks of the new school year, and then within first two weeks of January. Inspired by Responsive Classroom practices, listening conferences are vital to the foundation of trusting relationships between parents and teachers. These chats, which are no more than 20 minutes, give both caregivers and educators the space to speak openly about the student’s interests, goals, and hopes. Rather than a traditional conference, where specific assignments might be discussed, this is modeled as a broader chat to develop a positive partnership between both parties. Be sure to offer a number of different times and meeting options (in person and over video chat) to accommodate for all schedules.
- Make information accessible in a variety of formats. At the listening conference, confirm a preferred method of communication with caregivers — text, call, email, or paper — and ask about anything you can do to make reaching each other as seamless as possible. This paves the way for an effective and efficient dialogue, in addition to recognizing and respecting how each family in your classroom operates. Photographs of students also make it easy for caregivers to quickly get a snapshot of their child’s day!
- Think about ways to honor that each family is different. Without exhausting yourself of course, consider how to be flexible and tailor your communication to meet the needs of each family. After a few weeks into the year, you’ll be able to gauge who might appreciate receiving more or less news about their child. If a parent is worried about their child, don’t be afraid check in and share a win — it doesn’t take much time and goes a long way in showing that you’re actively thinking about their progress.
- Set transparent boundaries for yourself. Teacher burnout is real, and it is okay to have boundaries, as long as you make them clear and explicit from the get-go. If one of the ways you maintain work-life balance is not checking email over the weekend, set that expectation with parents in a polite but assertive way. You can set an out of office message such as “Thank you so much for your note! For personal reasons, I stay off email on the weekend, but I will be sure to contact you first thing Monday morning.”
- Remember the caregiver’s perspective. At the end of the day we’re all human, and trying to do our best for our kids! Miscommunications happen; so if tensions arise, look at the situation through the eyes of you and the caregiver in order to problem-solve and develop strategies for improvement. For instance, if a child is repeatedly late to school, instead of saying “Your child is late, and they need to arrive by 8am,” try, “I noticed that Jane has been getting to school around 8:30 every day. I’m checking in to see if there is any support I can provide or what you need from us in order for Jane to get the most out of her school day.” Rather than placing blame on the parent, get a better sense of their situation and from there, work together.
What are your favorite parent-teacher communication tips? We’d love to hear in the comments below.