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5 Tips for Effective Teacher-Parent Communication

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Interacting with parents is an essential part of any teacher's job. Through effective communication, you can share feedback, gain insight, and improve student performance.

The Role of Parents

Parents are an extremely valuable source of information when it comes to creating an effective and enjoyable curriculum. They provide unique insights about their children and offer feedback about various projects and objectives. As such, establishing proper channels of communication between yourself and your students' parents is crucial.

conference

Interactions with parents, however, are not guaranteed to be smooth, especially with the rise of 'helicopter parents.' Parents who become too involved in their children's' education run the risk of creating more problems than they solve, according to Harvard Medical School.

So, how can you ensure a healthy and effective exchange of information between yourself and the countless parents you're bound to encounter in your career? Let's take a look at a few tips and strategies that are sure to help you better communicate with parents.

1: Know Your School's Rules

Before you even begin to devise communication methods and tactics, you'll need to be aware of any rules and regulations regarding interactions with parents. Check with your supervisor to see if the district has any unique policies or requirements. It's also possible that your school has a preference for one form of communication.

If you're not feeling inspired or are unclear on school policy, don't be afraid to ask your peers! You may be new, but there are plenty of experienced teachers who can share their approach and provide you with helpful advice as you get started.

2: Establish Protocol (The Earlier, The Better!)

Think back for a moment to your time in college. At the beginning of every semester, your professors would announce their office hours and provide clear instructions on the hours during which they would be available. While the concept of 'office hours' doesn't work with parents, there's an important lesson that you can import to your own communication policies: Make the rules and procedures for communication extremely clear.

successful meeting

One common way to do so is to use one- and two-way communication in equal parts. One-way communication is strictly for teachers to send information to parents, while two-way communication allows parents to offer feedback and create a dialogue. By establishing firm but fair parameters, you can dictate the tone of parent-teacher communication and maintain control of interactions.

3: Make Use of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Perhaps the epitome of two-way communication, parent-teacher conferences are excellent opportunities to have open and honest discussion about a child's performance.

A proper parent-teacher conference should feature the free exchange of information and is a great opportunity to answer questions. Don't hesitate to offer candid observations, but be prepared to hear criticism as well. So long as both parties remain respectful, parents and teachers should leave the conference with a better understanding of the student's needs and goals.

happy teacher and student

For more information on creating the perfect parent-teacher conference experience, check out some of our tips and advice for parent-teacher conferences.

4: Stay Professional (Even if They Don't)

No matter how hard you try, you will encounter a hostile or uncooperative parent sooner or later. This is not a reflection of your skills or deficiencies--it's simply a part of the job. While you can't avoid tense interactions with parents, you can manage the situation much more smoothly if you're ready for it.

First off, try to remember the source of the parent's unhappiness. People get emotional when it comes to the well-being of their children, and in most cases, parents get upset out of love and concern for their children. Keep in mind (and remind the parent!) that both of you want the best for the student, and arguments and heated conversations rarely benefit anyone.

Should the parent become especially unruly, remember to keep cool and remain professional. As a teacher, you are held to certain standards and will face repercussions if you devolve into arguing with a parent.

These same rules can also be used to your benefit. If you find yourself dealing with an aggressive and difficult parent, speak with your supervisors and administrators. Whether they mediate the dispute or provide reinforcements for your cause, your colleagues are a valuable resource.

To prepare, you may find it helpful to look at a few hypothetical scenarios that you may encounter as a teacher. With your friends or fellow teachers, try acting them out as a form of practice, so that when the real thing happens, you'll feel like a veteran teacher who's already dealt with unruly parents a hundred times.

5: Utilize Technology

As technology becomes more sophisticated, teachers have begun to take advantage and use various applications to connect with parents. Text messages, email, video chat, and online portals make communication more productive and efficient for both educators and parents. They can also be accessed at any time, meaning that you won't need to divert time from other projects to talk with parents.

Digital learning tools can include:

  • Online Calendars
  • Chat rooms
  • Video conferences
  • Real-time report cards
  • Homework logs

These digital tools provide parents with a constant evaluation of their children. Rather than waiting months for a single report card, parents can monitor individual assignments and identify potential problems, which they can then communicate to you.

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As a teacher, dealing with parents is an inevitable part of the job. Proper communication can help you avoid disputes and, maybe more importantly, can also lead to improved student performance.

By Bill Sands
January 2017
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