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10 Tips for Teachers: Communicating With Your Students’ Families

The new school year is starting and we have 10 Tips for Teachers to communicate with families. #tipsforteachers #teachers #teachablemoments

One of the keys to a successful school year is having a strong school-family connection. And one way to build that strong connection is to have regular, effective communication with your students’ families. Here are our 10 tips for communicating with your students’ families.

The new school year is starting and we have 10 Tips for Teachers to communicate with families. #tipsforteachers #teachers #teachablemoments

1) Start Off Positive.  I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me several years to learn this piece of advice. I’d begin the year sending home my introductory letter, but I didn’t phone a student’s family unless there was a problem. Every parent loves hearing something complimentary about their child. Then as the year progresses and a concern arises, parents are more open and receptive to what a teacher has to say since you’ve already bridged that gap and taken time to contact the parent for a positive reason.

2) Make It Personal.  Schools will send home notices regarding school-wide activities such as Back to School Night and Open House. But I always wrote a special invitation to my students’ families. As a class, we brainstormed about what to include — what did my students most want their families to see in our classroom and what did they most want me to explain to their families. I typed up the letters and signed them with “Love,” and included my name as well as each student’s name.

3) Follow-Up.  Even after sending home a personalized invitation, not all my students were represented at each Back to School Night or Open House. Following each special event, I always sent home a packet of information (including any handout that was distributed at school) so that each student’s family received all the same information even if they didn’t all receive it at the same time or in the same way.

4) Ask For Help.  While it may often feel as if it’s just you and your students, and everything rests on the teacher’s shoulders, teachers do need help. Don’t be shy about asking for it. And remember, help takes many forms and doesn’t all have to be done in the classroom during school hours. Parents may not always know how best to help a teacher, and oftentimes, parents feel that if they can’t help in the classroom during school hours, their help isn’t needed. It’s simply not true. Discuss the types of volunteer opportunities you have available at Back to School Night and/or send a letter home. Click here to read our post “6 Ways to Parent Volunteer When You Don’t Have Much Time” for ideas about getting help for your classroom.

5) Be Clear About Your Response Times.  Whether families communicate with you by email, text, phone, or a note in a child’s backpack, teachers have a responsibility to respond in an appropriate time period. What is that time period for you? Make sure parents know when they can expect to hear from you and how often you check email, for example. (Is it only once a day? Every afternoon at 3:00 pm?)

6) Projects Need a “Date Due” as Well as a “Date Assigned.” I learned this lesson the hard way when one of my fourth-grade students told his father I had only given the class one weekend to complete a research project (that in reality the students had a month to complete). Luckily, I had documented the day I assigned the project in my lesson plan book. But after that incident, each long-term assignment page that went home had a statement that read, “This project is being assigned today, Monday, August 6th and is due on Monday, September 10th.”

7) Keep Records of All Correspondence.  Whenever possible, keep a copy of anything written that goes home (including hand-written notes and emails). Jot down notes after a phone conversation and conference for future reference.

8) Express Gratitude.  Family members accompanied your class on the trip to the San Fernando Mission. Family members helped with your class potluck before Thanksgiving.  You said “thank you.” But that’s not enough. Send home a thank you note. Whether it’s a generic postcard style with fill-in-the-blanks (Dear ______, Thank you for _________. Sincerely, Mrs. Kennar) or a hand-written thank you card, be sure to acknowledge your helpers and volunteers with a written thank you.

9) Remember, Not All Families Are the Same.  Keep that in mind, all the time. I didn’t address letters home to “Parents.” Instead, it was “Dear Fourth-Grade Families.” Not all children are living with parents, so be mindful of that if planing any Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day events. You want all children to feel included and all families to feel respected.

10) Assume Positive Intent.  In other words, give families the benefit of the doubt. A child may not have typed their book report as was assigned because the printer ran out of ink and the car was in the shop. A parent may not have attended Back-to-School Night because he/she worked a double-shift that day. Most parents are trying to do the best they can. Sometimes they don’t know how to help. Provide suggestions. Sometimes they don’t have the means to help. Provide access to resources.

The new school year is starting and we have 10 Tips for Teachers to communicate with families. #tipsforteachers #teachers #teachablemoments

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