Tackling New Challenges in Parent Communication

Written by Stephanie Ring on March 07, 2019

Contributions were provided by Sam Banks, Tristen Scheitle & Bianca Jones

As educators, we know the importance of engaging parents, guardians, and families in student learning. Research studies, such as those listed here and here, show that parent engagement impacts achievement, social skills, behavioral issues, and more.

Parent engagement encompasses many aspects, but communication is a huge component. A teacher’s ability to communicate directly and immediately with parents creates a collaborative, supportive ecosystem around the student. Just as teachers rely on parents to help support and continue learning at home, parents need the ability to ask questions, elicit learning resource suggestions, and reach out when they need guidance.

In the past, the question was how. How can we make immediate parent communications easy, secure, and trackable? With the solutions now available, the question isn’t necessarily how anymore. Instead, new questions have surfaced: How do we balance communicating enough without it becoming overwhelming? And, how can mass communications still foster a personal relationship in which parents, teachers, and administrators become a united, supportive team for the student?

Implementing a few communication norms can ensure both educators and parents have a better, more helpful experience—and therefore, achieve the best possible outcome for students. Here are a few to consider.

Start with a plan.

We are all inundated with information, emails, and messages—and for parents, the amount of incoming information only multiplies. For that reason, it’s important to find balance between educators’ need for communication immediacy while avoiding overwhelming or duplicative communication.

When setting up your communication program, try working as a team to create a master list of the types of messages that should be sent to parents. The list might include school closures, absences, upcoming major assignments, district/school events, and report cards. Then, specify who is responsible for the different types of notifications. (For instance, does it fall on the principal or the teacher to notify about report cards?) Finally, create and agree upon guidelines around how often those different notifications should be sent. Teachers will need to deviate from the guidelines when the circumstances call for it, but by and large, guidelines serve as a helpful reference.

Focus on the communication channel parents prefer.

The goal of parent communication is to ensure parents have the right information about their student at the right time–which is often “right away.” To achieve that goal, we need to communicate via the channel that is easiest for parents to access and act upon.

For that reason, we’ve found that parents typically prefer text messages over email. Text messages remove many of the barriers associated with phone calls and emails; they don’t require parents to be near a computer, log into an app, or step away from a meeting. Important messages (like emergencies and absences) and time-sensitive messages (like not turning in a final project) can otherwise get lost in inboxes.

And, when developing your list of communication types, it might help to deliberately highlight any less important communications that can be sent via email, specifically to unclutter text messages.

Be intentional about sending positive remarksnot just negative ones.

A lot of the messages teachers must send are inherently negative–things like failing grades or unexcused absences or significant behavioral incidents. But if communication becomes solely about negative updates, it can start to have several repercussions. Parents may start to dread all notifications, and it can cause the relationship between teachers and parents to become distant and one-sided. And, even though the teacher’s intentions are good, parents can start to feel defensive, frustrated, and concerned that these messages reflect how their child is viewed.

Try coaching teachers to mindfully and intentionally communicate triumphs and give compliments, too–especially for students who are struggling (and parents who are receiving several negative notifications).  

Sending these types of messages can actually do more to show the individualized attention each child is getting and develops a personalized feel. It can help shift communication from what feels like a barrage of negative, automated notifications to a conversation between human beings who care about the student’s success and needs. Parents are more likely to respond and become involved in that environment.

Keep student privacy in mind.   

When developing your communication protocols, be sure to reground on student personally identifiable information (PII). Be sure that everyone who will be sending messages understands PII (and, the legal implications surrounding student privacy violations).

As a precaution, coach the educators sending messages to omit student full names or other PII in personalized messages. (And, be sure to explain to parents ahead of time that this will happen and why, so these protocols are not misinterpreted as generic or impersonal.) Be sure to revisit these practices multiple times throughout the year so that teachers and parents continue to understand the importance.

Does your school use other norms for communication? Leave a comment to share what’s been successful!

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