Supporting teachers is critically important. Teachers receive a lot of great training and have a passion for teaching children. But, they are very quickly thrust into the reality of communicating with parents. Knowing what to say, how to say it, and how to manage the parent-teacher relationship is not something that all teachers are prepared for.
And giving "bad news" can be very challenging, whether recommending the child for testing, having IEP meetings, or just tough parent-teacher conferences are areas we don't normally prepare teachers for. We recently hosted a former teacher, and now VP of Strategy and Success at ClassTag, on the Multipurpose Room podcast to get her expert tips on how teachers can effectively manage parent communications.
When communicating broadly about classroom updates, use the "Three Cs": connect, make it continuous, and have a course of action.
Connect. You must go out of your way to build a real and meaningful conversation and relationship with your families. Set up a welcome call if you're teaching remotely or a welcome meeting if you are in person before school starts. Get to know the families: Are they working from home? What languages do they speak? What are their goals for their children, not just academically but emotionally? How do they feel comfortable communicating? Get them talking about their child. Let them tell you fun stories, and never make any assumptions about what their child or their family members like. Really build a true relationship.
Continuous. Make the conversation ongoing. Educators are starved for time, and regular updates are one of the easiest things to put on the back burner. But a regular schedule of connection will greatly impact a child's education. Have a goal of monthly communication.
The Course of Action. Create a plan for the subject and frequency, and then act! Finding a tool, like ClassTag, to support your plan is also very helpful. Tools can help you to consolidate everything into a single place and include a calendar to keep things organized.
One key thing to remember is that your job as a teacher isn't to make everyone happy. Rather, it is to partner with parents to help their child achieve goals, including highlighting any gaps the child may have. To become effective in this partnership, teachers can do the following:
Listen to other teachers having these types of conversations.
Identify the purpose of the meeting and keep that purpose in mind. You can even write this down and keep it visible during the conversation.
Practice the conversations out loud. Ask others to listen and provide feedback.
Start the conversations by stating that you view yourself as the parents' partner. Share the positive achievements of their child. Identify any gaps.
If things get emotional, remember that it is not personal. Take a break if needed. Reiterate your role as the parents' partner (you're in this together) and re-state your goals for the child. This is the time to lean in and fight any urge to back away.
Principals, Superintendents, and Parents Can Help
The school administrators can help by continuing to provide professional development. Knowing that communications are not a topic that's not covered as well as it should be covered in most college education programs, Helping teachers to build confidence in that area, providing different opportunities to learn in that area, and flexing those skills is super, super important. We often give teachers tools and professional development around a specific tool to make their life easier, but some soft skills are equally as important to pair with that training as to give them a new tool to use. So I think combining all of those together really helps make a difference.
Concerning parents, engaging back with the teacher is helpful. Whether this is a periodic phone call or responding to updates, outreach goes a long way to creating a meaningful partnership to support your child. For parents who want to know what questions to ask, Lindsay shares some great ideas!
If we reflect on the 2020-21 school year, we put a lot on our teachers' shoulders. We truly appreciate them and hope these tips relieve some stress in a potentially anxiety-producing part of their job!