Planning for effective parent-teacher communications

As educators, it’s not difficult to understand the importance of parents playing an active role in their child’s education. Decades of research reveals time and time again that those students whose parents know what their children are doing in school, help with their child’s homework and volunteer in the classroom are more likely to succeed. Evidence of this is marked by higher grades, test scores and graduation rates, along with decreased use of drugs and alcohol. Yet, parent involvement continues to be an obstacle for many teachers. According to research compiled by the Michigan Department of Education, there are three major factors that determine the level of parental involvement in the classroom and throughout the overall education of their children:

  • Parents’ beliefs about what is important, necessary and okay for them to do with and on behalf of their children.
  • The extent to which parents believe that they can have a positive influence on their children’s education.
  • Parents’ perceptions that their children and school want them to be involved.

These three factors can be managed with effective and creative communication. For starters, we’ve pulled together some great ideas to take your communications with parents to the next level: Recruit involvement Many parents might not realize the need for or the benefits of being involved in their child’s schooling. So, ask them. Go beyond the introductory letter and the yearly parent-teacher open house to really drive home the expectation of parent involvement at home and in the classroom:

  • At the beginning of the year, quarter or semester, send parents a planner pre-populated with important class events and due dates. Include a note that says “Plan to be there for your student!”
  • Prior to special events and field trips, you no doubt seek volunteers for chaperones or extra help in the classroom from parents. Expand this sort of recruitment when beginning new lessons to reach out to parents with special skills, stories or connections that they can relate to the subject being studied and share with students.
  • Educate parents on the importance of involvement by creating a simple fact card with a few statistics on how students with active parents succeed and include a sign-up sheet to pledge their involvement at home or through volunteering in your classroom. Incorporate this sign-up sheet on a memo board in the classroom and your office, too.

Establish a regular schedule of communications In the digital age, educators have more tools than ever before to stay connected outside of the classroom with students and parents alike. It’s important to remember, however, that not everyone effectively communicates through all channels. Take efforts to ask parents how they prefer to be communicated with—via e-mail, phone, letters or regular in-person meetings. Then, establish a regular schedule so parents know what to expect on your end, too:

  • Throughout the year, send reminders that motivate parents to stay involved: Apple-shaped bookmarks that say “Are you reading to your student?,” hand fans imprinted with the message “Be your student’s number one fan!,” or Post-it  notes with an image of a map that say “Are you following your student?”
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes to the parents who have clearly become increasingly engaged with their student or who have clearly made an effort to become more involved—be sure to share the subsequent improvements in the child’s work or attitude.

Keep the door open The key to effective communication is found within two-way communication—simply disseminating information to parents just won’t cut it. After all, parents know their children best. Encourage them to come to you with concerns, progress updates, questions or suggestions.

  • While many educators are required to keep office hours for older students, some educators and parents find it helpful to keep office hours for parents, too. Chat rooms established by school software, instant messaging and after-hours phone numbers are all great options to remain available if needed. Create business card magnets with this important information so all parents can keep it handy.
  • Consider incorporating the use of virtual suggestion boxes or online surveys as a means to garner honest and constructive feedback from parents who feel most comfortable expressing themselves anonymously.

Through encouraging parents to become and stay involved with your work and their child’s education, students will surely find a path to success—one that is supportive and welcoming to all those involved. Prepare communications today to prepare students for tomorrow.

“National Parent Teacher Association.” National PTA. Web. 19 Aug. 2010.
Michigan Department of Education. “What Research Says About Involvement in Children’s Education.” State of Michigan. Web. 19 Aug. 2010.
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