Many Ways to Reach Parents
- Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
For those times when face-to-face conferences are not possible or necessary, you can communicate effectively in other ways. Telephones, e-mails, fax machines, computer-generated newsletters, and handwritten notes are all good ways to maintain communication with parents. Phone Home! Telephone calls are the next best thing to being there. They are an effective tool for maintaining good school-to-home communication. And in this age of the answering machine, it's easier than ever to reach parents by phone. Experienced teachers offer these telephoning tips.
- Make a practice of calling at least one parent a week to relay good news. Keep track of these sunshine calls and make sure each family receives at least two during the school year.
- Telephone etiquette demands that we address the person we are calling by name. Many students have different last names from their parents. Make sure you know the name before you call.
- Keep track of all calls made — good news or bad. Note the date, nature of the call, parents' responses, and outcomes. (A paper trail is very important for teachers today.)
- Make your first call to any home a positive one. One good idea is to make welcoming calls just before the new school year begins. Many kindergarten and first-grade teachers find that welcoming calls not only help establish good rapport with parents, they ease young students' anxieties about going to school.
- Try to call those parents who don't respond to a written invitation for group or individual conferences. A call lets them know you're interested, and it could encourage those who are hesitant.
Recently, technology has enhanced the telephone's effectiveness as a bridge between home and school. In some schools, each teacher has an answering machine or voice mail. They record a brief daily message about learning activities, homework, and what parents can do to extend or support learning. Then parents can call anytime from anywhere to receive the information. In other schools, teachers can store a message in a computer, then direct the computer to deliver the recorded message. Often, the computer will keep track of the calls completed so teachers know exactly who received the message. The Written Word (Electronic or Otherwise) When my oldest daughter's social studies teacher wants to reach me, he simply types out a quick message on his computer keyboard and sends it to my computer "mailbox" with the push of a button. The whole process takes about a minute. Next year, when our local elementary school is online, my youngest daughter's teachers will be able to do the same thing. And I know that here in rural West Virginia, we're not unique. Friends and colleagues across the nation report the burgeoning use of e-mail between home and school. For school-to-home communication, e-mail has vast potential. As more and more homes obtain computers and Internet access, e-mail will become an important link between teachers and parents. If you have e-mail access now, take advantage of this incredible tool. Other forms of writing are effective, too. Newsletters, monthly calendars, informal letters or notes, and interim reports are all ways teachers write to parents. In fact, writing is the most frequent form of communication between home and school. Basically, there are two types of written messages sent home: messages for the whole class and messages about individual children. Most common among whole-class messages are the newsletter and the open letter to parents. Most common among the individual messages is the personal note to parents. Newsletters Surveys of parent consistently prove that they read school newsletters and consider them a useful source of information. Parents indicate that classroom newsletters are even more helpful. You are limited only by your imagination in what a class newsletter can include. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Announcement of upcoming events
- Invitations to class activities or open houses
- Lists of items parents could collect or save for class projects
- Thank-you notes to families who help out
- Descriptions of study unites and suggestions of ways parents can supplement units at home
- Library schedule
- Reprints or articles you think are important
- Explanations of grading policies, standardized testing, and other means for assessing and evaluating performance
- Explanations of behavior standards and consequences for misbehavior
- Highlights of community resources such as a museum exhibit, play, concert, or television show
- Children's writing and artwork
- News about classroom pets, trips, celebrations
The format can be as simple as a typed letter to parents or as complicated as a professional-looking document with headlines and columns. (Most word-processing software has the capabilities for producing multicolumn documents and other professional-looking features.) But no matter which format you use, use the same one each time so the newsletter becomes instantly recognizable. Keep the format clean and uncluttered. Headings help parents locate different topics, and simple graphics, such as boldface, help to summarize main points and capture attention. Also consider:
- Length. Keep newsletters brief and to the point. One or two pages (back-to-back, so it's one piece of paper) are plenty for a weekly newspaper. More than that, and it becomes too expensive and time-consuming.
- Tone. Tone, in the literary sense, is the author's attitude. Newsletters project an image of you and your class. What attitude do you want to convey? Dignified and serious? Whimsical and playful? Humorous? Proud and full of school spirit? Child-oriented? Solid as a rock? Caring and responsive? These and other images are created by the words you use and the way you newsletter looks in content, format, and neatness. Avoid jargon, and always proofread any newsletter (or any written product) you send out.
- Frequency. How often you send home a newsletter depends upon your purpose. If you are suggesting supplemental activities, a weekly newsletter is probably your best bet. If you are trying to showcase student work and highlight achievements or contributions, a less frequent newsletter will suffice. A weekly update can be more informal, less cumbersome, and more timely. Also, many teachers report that parents find it easier to get in the habit of reading a weekly newsletter. However frequently you send a newsletter, try to send it on the same day each week or month so parents will learn to expect it and look for it. And don't forget to date it.
Open Letter to Parents Teachers who don't regularly produce newsletters — and even many who do — find that a general letter to all parents can be useful. For example, try starting the school year with an open letter to parents. This letter can cover nitty-gritty details you wouldn't want to include in a personal welcoming call to each family (information about homework policies and student supplies, for example). Send other letters thought the year to make special announcements, explain a new policy, ask for volunteers, and so on. Personal Notes A recurring theme in this chapter is that first contacts with parents should be positive ones. This way, you can gain parents' trust and confidence before you have to enlist their help if a problem should develop. Share good news about individual children with their parents. These warm touches on paper go a long way in cultivating good relationships with both parents and students. Has a child accomplished an academic goal? Helped you or someone else? Finished her or his homework on time? Tutored a younger child? Led a group? Let parents in on the good news. Good-news notes allow you to recognize and reward the efforts of individual children. For example: Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones: I thought you would be pleased to know how well Amanda is doing in reading. Her work improves every day, and her cheerful attitude brightens the whole classroom. Sincerely, Mrs. Howard Two words of caution: Keep track of the good-news notes you send out so every student occasionally receives one. (Some teachers routinely write several a week.) And never distribute the notes en masse. They are not special if everyone gets one. Unfortunately, not all your personal notes will be good news. Perhaps you've noticed that a child seems sick or constantly tires. Another is having difficulty in math and risks a failing grade. A shy child seems to be withdrawing more every day. You need to tell parents. But if you have already contacted them on a positive note, chances are they'll be more responsive now to problems. Always let them know you share the problem. No matter what the nature of your personal note, always invite a response. Urge parents to call you, schedule an appointment, or write back. If they don't, call them. Show them that you care. Your Own Class Homepage When indivualized communication is not necessary or desirable, you can easily post messages to all parents on your own Class Homepage. For instance, rather than sending a monthly newsletter home with your students, you could put the letters up on your Class Homepage and simply ask parents to visit every month. Similarly, your Class Homepage would be an ideal place to post your open letter to parents. Scholastic will create a Class Homepage for you and even get you started with a tutorial on use, monthly tips for updating the content, and suggested resources and activities to add to your page. Just visit /homepagebuilder/ to get started.