Communication with parents can take many forms, but they all have the purpose of cementing your strong parent-teacher relationship.
There are some pitfalls, however. Let's talk about how to avoid weak links in your communication chain to ensure your message is heard.
Calling home can reinforce a behavior discussion at school – if it is not overused. Kids usually don’t want Mom and Dad to know they’ve gotten into trouble, but if we call parents after every little incident, we’ll spend every evening on the phone. Aside from losing its impact due to overuse, it’s not necessary.
And when it comes to student behavior issues, you really have to call – a note or an email is acceptable only if three of your phone messages have been ignored. So, when do you inform parents of something going on at school? Here are some guidelines:
When your building discipline plan requires it
Pretty simple: if the plan says to call, then call. Building-wide plans start to unravel if one teacher decides to go her own way.
When a student has interfered with the safety of others
Bullying and fighting fit into this category, as does anything else that judgment tells you is bad for student physical or mental health. I once called eighteen sets of parents to advise of both good and bad behavior arising from a significant bullying incident.
When the principal should have called but didn’t
Many principals tend to avoid conflict when they can. If, in your judgment, parents should be informed of a school behavior issue, then don’t let a principal’s inaction stop you. Classroom teachers are the ones who have to live with the future actions of a misbehaving student. Make the call.
When the principal does call but parents also need to hear from you
You are the one with the carefully built parent-teacher relationship – a relationship that is usually much more solid than any parent-principal connection. There are times when parents need to hear from their child’s classroom teacher so they understand that you are still on their team on behalf of their child.
When a trend develops
When a behavior pattern has gone on for an extended period of time, each incident may not warrant a call, but an accumulation leading to a trend does.
When not to call
Notice that I didn’t say, “Call when a student is sent to the office.” Kids are sent to the office for all kinds of things (often unnecessarily), from chewing gum to making knives out of rulers. We don’t need to call Mom and Dad about gum-chewing; that kind of “teacher tattling” erodes parent-teacher relationships.
A ruler knife, on the other hand… it’s a good idea to call on that one!
Teacher-parent relationships must be based on trust. A big part of trust is letting parents know that you don’t sound the alarm at every childish transgression; you save the personal communication for important stuff, not trivia.
Having kids call home
Having a student call their parents can be effective or it can be disastrous. It all depends upon how this technique is used.
When a student left something at home, such as:
- lunch money
- a signed permission form
- a costume
- a project
…then have the student call. Making this call on behalf of a child insulates them from the irritation of their parents. Better to let them learn from their mistake.
Having a student call their parents to explain misbehavior can be a good idea, but it must be done under your supervision, and yours only.
Don't send a student to the office to have them call home. Without you standing by to listen, they will be able to spin the story any way they want since the office staff doesn't know what occurred.
Video tips: making connections with parents
Sending notes home
The process of sending a note home must be managed carefully. Just remember who your messengers are.
These are the same kids who can't reliably deliver permission slips and corrected papers to their parents every week. When you add in the fact that the messenger doesn't want to get in trouble… well, they won't exactly perform like FedEx. If they do deliver a teacher note to their parents, they will often provide a slanted explanation along with it.
So be sure there is a feedback loop built into the process. Require that a parent must sign the note and return it, or contact you in some other way, such as a phone call or e-mail to let you know they are aware of the issue.
If you don't get a response, then it's time for a call to home.
Remember our parent-teacher communication motto: No fear. Notes are often a way to avoid talking to parents or to put off interacting with them. Usually, you really just need to pick up the phone.
A classroom newsletter can be a good parent-teacher communication tool for keeping everyone informed of school happenings. Notice that I didn't say it was a great tool!
Here's the bottom line: In general, people don't read. Anything. And that includes the parents of your students. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten frantic last-minute requests from kids or parents for…
- the field trip permission form
- the Valentine list
- the weekly spelling list
- … and on and on
Of course, every single time these have been provided via multiple editions of classroom newsletters. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that parents who read – and especially ones who read the corrected papers I send home – will get value from my newsletter. Parents who don't read in general will ignore it – and that's assuming it even leaves their student's backpack.
This is not unique to school newsletters or even general information from school. Any informational piece of text from any source would be equally ignored in many (most) households.
So – after that dose of reality – I still have to recommend sending one home at least every month. I send one out each week because for many families it is a vital and appreciated link to their child's major daily activity (that is, school).
Plus, mine includes the spelling words for the week and helping with spelling homework is a great parent-involvement activity. But I no longer have any fantasies about creating a newsletter that is so engaging that every parent will read it.
Keep it simple
The shorter it is, the more likely it will get read… and the more likely you will be to update it regularly. A cumbersome newsletter will eventually fall off your to-do list. One or two pages – at the most – is best.
Make it look like a teacher produced it
Use graphics to make it “schooly” if not cute. Make the font a bit larger and keep sentences short. Make it easy for your student to read it even if your parents don't.
Use colored paper – the same color every week
The color makes it easier to spot in a backpack full of assignments and squished sandwiches, and using the same color will increase its chance of ending up on the fridge instead of in the trash.
Send it home regularly
Establishing a pattern will help cue parents to look for it. If it is intermittent it may not be recognized when it arrives along with a sheaf of other papers.
Click the link below to receive your downloads:
- A “my hero” note example (Microsoft Word). Use this to tell parents their student did something great at school.
- First day of school homework for parents (Microsoft Word). This is a great way to start the communication process – and kids love giving their parents homework!
- Sample newsletter (Microsoft Publisher)
Instead of a hard-copy note to parents, teacher email is often a preferred way to communicate with school. It's a good idea to collect email addresses at the beginning of the year (perhaps during an open house).
Send out short, concise emails every week or two with pertinent things parents need to know. Attach PDF permission slips to be printed, signed, and returned. If you have more info on your web page, include a link, but the main points should be in the email.
As for behavior issues, the same rules that apply to emailing anyone apply to sending a teacher email to a parent:
- Don't email when a call should be made.
- Remain professional in both the salutation and the text.
- Don't put anything in writing that you don't want posted on the internet forever.
A teacher email is great for coordinating and confirming… not so good for delivering sensitive information. If your calls are not being returned and you have an e-mail address, by all means use it – but not to explain all the details of a difficult situation. Use it as one more method for soliciting a return phone call so you can have a real discussion.