10 steps to constructive teacher-parent communication

Saga Briggs
Saga Briggs

We know it’s important, but it’s one of those things we tend to put on the back burner when we feel pressed for time: communication with parents.

Part of creating a positive learning environment is connecting with parents and keeping them informed of their children’s progress. Whether it’s a quick note to celebrate a student’s achievement or an in-depth newsletter detailing all the exciting things happening at your school, teacher-parent communication takes many forms and yields many benefits.

We all want students to succeed, so let’s get the job done together. Even better, let’s make it as easy and enjoyable as possible. How do we streamline the process of staying in touch?

As usual, Canva’s got a few tricks up its sleeve:

01. Ask what parents want by starting with a survey

Some parents prefer email, others like the occasional phone call, others still are most comfortable with WhatsApp. It’s important to make contact as soon as possible once the school year begins, not only to establish a rapport but to organize yourself so that you can create a communication schedule and stick to it.

Take the opportunity to ask parents which communication style they prefer when you send out introductory letters or make that first phone call. Doing so shows that you care enough about their child’s education to make sure communication lines remain open, even if that means meeting them halfway.

If you use the wrong communication strategy with parents, you run the risk of losing touch with them, which means decreased family involvement in your school and less support for students at home. Find out what works for most of them and meet them on their own terms.

To determine which communication method most parents prefer, send out a quick questionnaire along with a Survey Graphic like this one.

Teacher-Parent Survey Graphic

02. Stay organized with a communication schedule

Plan out your communication with parents so you don’t forget to follow up and aren’t tempted to skip a week when you’ve got a thousand papers to grade midway through the term.

Once you know which communication method parents prefer, create a schedule that you can reasonably stick to. Outline what kind of information should be shared throughout the week, month, or term and make a note of it in a planner. Make a note, too, of good examples of academic progress and student achievement so you can send them celebratory notes (see #8).

Communication should be consistent so that parents know when to expect it. It should be friendly and informative so they look forward to hearing from you. And it must be responsive when a question or request is involved.

Without clear scheduling, teacher-parent communication becomes irregular (unless you have a perfect memory), which can come across as disingenuous or scatter-brained. It may also make parents feel like they can’t reach out to you as easily, or that you might not welcome their questions or concerns. Consistency is key.

You can use this Blue Simple Class Schedule and updated it throughout the year.

Blue Simple Class Schedule

03. Build trust with a fill-in-the-blank letter

It’s in your job description to be the one with all the answers, but involving parents in their own child’s education can be a powerful move. After all, parents are the authority figures children look up to at home and whose values plant the deepest seed. If parents have a personal stake in a child’s education, the child will be more likely to have a personal stake in her own education as well.

So, what do parents want to see their children accomplish this year? Well, why not ask?

“The first week of school, I send home a fill-in-the-blank letter in English and Spanish for the parents to write to me about their son/daughter,” says Mellanay Auman, a middle school language arts teacher. “They get a chance to tell me about what they want their child to accomplish in my class, and about their child’s strengths, hobbies, and interests.”

You’ll learn a lot more about your students this way too. What’s their academic background like? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where is there room for improvement? Students can certainly answer these questions themselves, depending on the age group, but it’s useful to get a parent’s perspective as well.

Adapt this Orange Fall Autumn Writing Prompt WorkSheet and send it out to parents twice a year.

Orange Fall Autumn Writing Prompt WorkSheet

04. Set expectations with a course syllabus

At the start of the term, create and send out a course syllabus to parents as well as students so that everyone knows what to expect. Send it to parents in an email so that they can refer to it any time throughout the term if they have questions. Paper copies tend to get lost.

While we tend to focus on syllabi for one day only (the first day of class) and then move on, this is actually a missed opportunity to help students and parents alike keep academic goals in perspective.

When you finish or begin a unit, refer to the syllabus, show how your lessons are serving the greater purpose of the course, and celebrate the progress the class is making. When you assign homework, show that the material being learned will help set the foundation for later material. It’s important to connect the dots, and your syllabus can help.

You can easily adapt this Blue and Yellow School Event Program to suit your syllabus needs.

Blue and Yellow School Event Program

05. Keep parents informed with a monthly newsletter

Let a template do the work for you. A newsletter is easy to design, put together, and update month by month. Send it to parents in an email or print it out and send it home with students.

Regular personal communication with parents is important, but if you want to keep them informed not only on their child’s progress but on class projects and school-wide activities, you’ll want to curate that information into a resource that looks official and reflects pride in the quality of education offered by you and your fellow teachers.

Include school policy updates, class project descriptions, profiles of teachers and students, important dates, upcoming events, and anything else you might find important. In your paper version, invite parents to respond to stories with a comments section they can tear off, place in an envelope, and send back to the school. In the digital version, invite them to respond via email or link to the contact section of your school website.

You can use an automated newsletter distribution tool like MailChimp to get the job done more efficiently.

Try this Green Simple Article School Newsletter to gain a little inspiration.

Green Simple Article School Newsletter

06. Boost parent participation with announcements

Simple and effective, announcements are a great way to catch parents’ attention when you have an event, fundraiser, open house, or project that needs volunteers or parental involvement in general.

As many forms of communication can be pretty wordy, announcements can be a refreshing visual break. Canva lets you choose a background, layout, color scheme and typography, and images and icons to create your own design in order to print out or distribute online.

Print out your announcements and post them around the school or send them out via your email listserv. Don’t hesitate to send it out more than once, or to send a reminder, as the date of the event approaches. Be sure to add contact information to the announcement as well, whether it’s a phone number, email address, or social media handle.

Here’s a great Yellow Brushes Illustrated Classroom Program template you can adapt for any kind of announcement, reminder, or event.

Yellow Brushes Illustrated Classroom Program

07. Streamline communication with letter templates

Use a canned response to cut down on e-mail time. You can create one for each type of email or letter and keep them organized in your “My Designs” folder in Canva for easy access.

Instead of writing an email or paper letter from scratch each time, keeping a template at hand will allow you to focus on other tasks that need your attention. Emails take a lot of time, as we all know, so once you’ve got that template in place, all you need to do is change a few words or dates here and there each term.

You can even share or trade designs with colleagues and invite parents to respond by filling in the template with their own message.

Try out this Purple Analysis Writing Prompt Worksheet, which makes a great email letter template.

Purple Analysis Writing Prompt Worksheet

08. Announce progress with notes of encouragement

In addition to personal contact and newsletters, occasional announcements can be a quick and effective way to stay in touch with parents and show you care about keeping them in the loop.

A note of encouragement here and there is simple and effective, and shows you care about your students’ progress--and their parents should, too! Send them home after a student has made major improvements from one test to another or showed remarkable effort on homework completion.

There’s no need to send announcements for every accomplishment, but too much communication is better than too little. Parents will appreciate the gesture even if they don’t read everything you send to them. It will also pave the way for more conversations about school to take place in the home.

Try this Purple Rainbow Encouragement Card and adapt it to send any kind of positive message.

Purple Rainbow Encouragement Card

09. Reduce your workload with a class website

You most likely already have a school website, but what about a website or blog for your class? You can create your own site and start uploading content in seconds, and you probably already have plenty of material to fill it with. All it takes is a little hustling in the beginning--even just devoting one Sunday afternoon to it--and you’ll be up and running.

Get parents excited about your class website. Keeping a site can streamline communication as it allows you to make announcements in one place and parents can then see for themselves what’s going on in class. This will cut down your workload a bit when it comes to updating parents on activities and events.

Canva allows you to try out your web design in a presentation format, which allows you to see what kind of site you’d like to build before committing to one platform over another (e.g. Wordpress or Squarespace).

Invite parents to check out your site with a Website Launch Rocketship Facebook Cover Photo like this one.

Website Launch Rocketship Facebook Cover Photo

10. Meet parents halfway on social media channels

Many parents have their own social media accounts, so invite them to follow your class Twitter and Facebook pages so they can stay updated that way as well. They may even prefer communicating via direct message on these platforms.

Keeping your class social media presence strong also allows you to create a triangle of communication between parents, students, and yourself. This gives you the opportunity to create a more supportive academic network and bridge the gap between school and home life.

Streamlining communication means adapting to the communication style of others and figuring out where the most idea exchanges are happening. Social media continues to be a useful tool in teacher-parent communication and will only continue to become more popular.

Once you create an account, you can send out an announcement and follow request in the style of this Follow Us On Twitter template.

Conclusion

Teacher-parent communication is a valuable tool in giving students the best education possible. We need to create as supportive a learning environment as we can for them, and that means reaching out to and involving parents.

One of the main reasons teachers don’t communicate with parents is because they think it takes too much time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of tools available to streamline the process. Once you’ve got your routine in place, regular communication becomes easier and more natural, and you can use the same methods and resources from year to year.

Get started on the right foot and keep those channels open. Parents and students alike will thank you for it.