Hiiii! Today’s guest post comes from Abby from Winstead Wandering! Abby is an Oregonian turned Mississippian, teaching high school Business and Technology. Abby’s guest post talks about communicating with parents. Not only is Abby helping my readers, but this post is great for me as a first year teacher! Enjoy!
One of the trickiest parts of teaching can be communicating with parents. It’s hard to tell Mom and Dad that their baby isn’t doing well in school, and it can be tough to condense days or weeks worth of classroom events into a single conversation.
I remember vividly my first parent interaction. Somehow, I was tasked with explaining to a parent that we- the school- needed permission to test her daughter for special education needs. As a first-year teacher who was neither a counselor nor familiar with special ed., I was wholly unprepared for the conversation.
The mother mostly nodded her way through the discussion and, to this day, I still don’t know if I communicated as effectively as I could have. While it’s impossible to follow a script when talking to parents, there are some things you can do to make the process run as smoothly as possible.
1. Be honest. Don’t sugarcoat things when discussing a student’s issues; give the facts. When you call Billy’s parents because he’s failing your class, make it clear that he’s unlikely to pass the class, if that’s the case. You don’t want an angry mom calling you, asking why you didn’t let her know her son was going to fail.
If Suzy is being disruptive in class, make sure you convey the full extent of her disrespect. You don’t want her parent to be blindsided by an office referral or other disciplinary action. No one wants to tell a parent their child isn’t perfect, but for everyone’s sake, it’s best to be honest from the beginning.
2. Offer cautious suggestions. It isn’t uncommon for parents to be at a loss for ways to handle a situation. While you don’t want to give specific parenting advice- that’s often ill-received, especially if you aren’t a parent- you can consider cautiously offering suggestions.
Something like, “I know of parents who have tried this…” can be a way to extend help without seeming superior. The parents are most likely to know how to best handle the situation, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to new ways of parenting.
3. Document everything. However you choose to communicate with parents, it’s vital to document every parent interaction you have. Copy letters, save emails, and record dates and times of meetings and phone calls. The unfortunate reality is that you never know when your actions will be called in to questions, so do everything you can to protect yourself.
4. Keep them updated.A one-and-done approach to parent contact is not the way to go. You shouldn’t call Johnny’s dad and say, “Johnny failed our first test and is now failing the class,” without providing him with follow-up information. If you assume that, after learning that his son is failing, Johnny’s dad will take the initiative you contact you next time, you’re likely wrong.
After that initial contact, give periodic updates- both good and bad- so that parents can track what’s going on. Again, it all comes down to the final outcome; don’t risk having a parent get upset because he didn’t have all the information he needed.
5. Bring in backup. There will be times when you shouldn’t meet with a parent one-on-one. Maybe the parent is known for being hostile or dishonest. Maybe the parent has made accusations about you in the past. For whatever reason, it is well within your rights to ask an administrator or counselor to be present for a meeting.
Some administrators might get inpatient about sitting in on parent-teacher conferences, but their exasperation is a small price to pay for making sure someone is there to verify your account of the meeting.
You’re never going to be able to make every parent happy every time; that’s the nature of the job. If you stay calm and remember that you have the best interests of the student at heart, though, your passion and logic will often be evident.
Sometimes sending a letter home is the best way to contact a parent. You can avoid the hassle outdated contact information or the frustration of playing phone tag. I sell these two letters in my TpT store and use them often. It’s so encouraging to take time to send letters home regarding positive experiences, too; I try to send one “happy” letter for every “bad” letter I mail.
Be sure to check out Abby’s Tpt store!
Do you have any tips or experiences in communicating with parents?