Communicating with your students' parents is both an essential task and a bit of a chore. While e-mail and class websites have increased the avenues for reaching parents, they lack the personal touch of a phone call or a handwritten note. So which method of communication is best? You will likely need to use a mix of phone calls, e-mail, handwritten notes, and your class website to reach parents. The following hints will help you utilize each method with confidence and ease.
Telephone calls are the next best thing to being there. 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.
- Note the date, nature of the call, parents' responses, and outcomes.
- 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.
You are limited only by your imagination in what a class newsletter can include. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Invitations to class activities or open houses
- Lists of items parents can collect for class projects
- Links to interesting or important articles
- Explanations of grading policies, standardized testing, and other means for assessing and evaluating performance
- Explanations of behavior standards and consequences for misbehavior
- Children's writing and artwork
- News about classroom pets, trips, celebrations
Keep the format clean and uncluttered and use headings to help parents locate different topics. Also consider:
- Length: Keep newsletters brief and to the point.
- Tone: Newsletters project an image of you and your class. What attitude do you want to convey? Dignified and serious? Whimsical and playful?
- 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. Whichever timeframe you choose, try to send it on the same day each week or month so parents will learn to expect it and look for 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. Send other letters throughout the year to make special announcements, explain a new policy, ask for volunteers, and so on.
Your first contact with a family should be positive. This way, you can gain parents' trust and confidence before you have to enlist their help if a problem should develop. 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.
Two words of advice: 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 tired. Another is having difficulty in math and risks a failing grade. 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.
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 Classroom Website
A website is an easy and quick way to keep parents and students up to date on what is happening in the classroom. Put homework, projects, and field trips on the site for parents to see what their children are doing and accomplishing at school. You can also put class forms on the site, such as a field trip permission slip or a sign up for a class event, so that parents have guaranteed, easy access. Make sure you update the page frequently so parents can rely on it for important information. And remember: Never post pictures of students or their full names.