Indeed, teachers spend a large part of each day with our children, but when it comes down to it, parents know their children best.
Parents are children’s first teachers, guiding their little ones through the fundamental skills children will use their whole lives, from eating and sleeping to talking and walking. Parents watch their children move from infancy to toddlerhood, from preschool to elementary school and beyond.
Parents know what “works” for their children. Parents know what moves their kids and stalls them, what scares them and frees them.
Parents can be a teacher’s biggest ally, but sometimes teachers need reminders about the basics when it comes to communicating with parents. Though many teachers learned these skills back in college, it’s worth repeating.
What should every teacher know about talking to parents?
1. Parents are professionals, so they should be treated as such. It doesn’t matter if the parent is a professional artist, physician, performer, builder, lawyer, administrator, or cleaner. It doesn’t matter if the parent works at home or outside of the home; it does not matter if the parent is employed or unemployed. What matters is that the parent is a parent, and though there is no degree conferred upon any of us before we step into this challenging and rewarding role, we are the “experts” of our children.
So when addressing parents, teachers should address them by their surname: “Mr. Lewis” or “Mrs. Hernandez,” and not by first names. It sets an example of respect for students when they hear teachers address parents by their surnames.
Be willing to listen to what parents have to say and approach every conversation with an open mind, free of judgments. What the parent tells you about the child may surprise you, help you, and guide you toward making the best instructional decisions in the classroom.
2. Parents follow schedules. If a teacher wants to connect with a parent, the teacher should contact the parent and schedule a time to talk. No sharing of information in the hall, in passing, or in the office. Or if you must, please be considerate about where and when you share news with parents and be aware of an audience—students, teachers, or other parents—whenever you are communicating.
Often parents are moving from one event to the next, in the middle of dropping other children off, managing someone’s naptime, preparing for the next event, and doing it all on time. A brief email to schedule a call will help ease anxiety and prepare the parent for the conversation.
3. Parents are busy. Parents are so busy. It doesn’t matter if they have one child or ten, parents are pulled in a number of different directions each and every day, because their job as a parent is the job that never ends.
On top if it, parents are managing other jobs; they are juggling meetings, deadlines, and employees. They are CEOs of the home, scheduling appointments; chauffeuring people to activities; and feeding, cleaning, and providing for everyone in their care. Parents are in school themselves, finishing degrees, looking for jobs, and struggling to pay bills.
Parents are navigating the rocky roads of child-rearing while at the same time trying to move gracefully through their own lives, so be aware of how precious their time really is. Be specific about your concerns if you have them, and provide concrete examples of the student’s work or behavior. Know exactly what points you want to convey to the parent and be willing to listen to what the parent says. Work together to brainstorm solutions, if possible.
4. Parents care. They love their children with their whole heart, and they are sharing that child with you for the greater part of the day. They trust you. Most parents are doing the very best they can with what they have.
Remember that for some parents, school was a source of stress and anxiety, so even communicating with you, as the teacher, may be difficult even without kids involved. Being in the school building may be stressful or scary. Some parents may be intimidated by you, unsure of the curriculum, and confused about how best to support their children. Many parents may not know the educational jargon you use but may be afraid to ask for clarification.
Speak kindly to parents without being condescending. Leave your “kindergarten” voice in the classroom and use a different tone with adults than you may use when speaking to younger children.
Provide resources for parents where they can find more information, and gently point them in the right direction when necessary.
Help parents help you. Outline a few days’ or weeks’ worth of assignments for students so parents have an idea of how they can support homework. Give parents time to buy poster board or art supplies. Allow parent volunteers to come into your classroom to help, or send them home with objects to cut, organize, or sort. Parents want to do their part to help, so let them. They really do care.
5. Parents are human. Parents are human, and they have good days and bad days, just like their kids, just like you. So if a parent doesn’t get a form signed right away or calls you the wrong name at some point, relax. And give him the second chance he deserves.
If you connect with a parent on the phone or via email, consider starting the conversation by saying something nice about his or her child. Or just call for no reason at all, other than to share happy news.
If all teachers called parents for good reasons, I truly think the world would be a better place. Parents would be happier. Kids would be happier. Teachers would be happier. And administrators would be happier.
The problem is that it takes time, and time is precious for teachers—I get that. But I also know that it feels good to share good news, so even one or two quick notes a week:
Hi, Mrs. Frank. I just wanted to let you know that Maria is really working hard this week, and I appreciate how she helped our new student in class today. We’re thankful she’s a leader in our class. Thanks so much! Mr. DiPristo
Easy. Quick. Meaningful.
It’s amazing what doors can open when you begin by sharing a few kind words. Parents are human, and everyone appreciates a pat on the back some days.
What have we forgotten? What do you think is important to remember when communicating with kids’ teachers and parents? We’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, or find Amy on twitter, @teachmama, and let’s continue the conversation!