Teachers and parents have to work together to create and maintain a healthy, productive learning environment for students. Good communication skills are a crucial part of creating an environment where everyone can thrive.
But sometimes creating that communication bond is easier said than done because there’s often a disconnect between teachers and parents, says Lee Watanabe Crockett, president of Global Digital Citizen Foundation, an organization that helps educators develop modern learning environments in their schools.
In this article, we explore why parent-teacher communication is so important. We also share tips from educators to help facilitate communication between parents and teachers, who have a common goal: supporting the best possible educational outcomes for students.
Why good parent-teacher communication matters
Kids are multifaceted, just like adults. The child a teacher sees in the classroom may not be the same as the child a parent sees at home.
“Students spend the vast majority of their time under the supervision of educators and parents, and sometimes a student could behave differently in school than they do at home,” says Robert Missonis, assistant head of school and head of middle school at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.
“Good communication allows the adults in a child’s life to have a fuller picture of their academic progress, emotional state, social pressures, and more. Communication allows for more informed and collaborative teamwork between these partners and can often lead to earlier interventions that help remove barriers to a student’s success,” says Missonis.
To truly serve students, communication between teachers and parents should be open and frequent.
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1. Communicate regularly
Relationships don’t have a chance to form with intermittent contact. By communicating regularly with each other, teachers and parents have the opportunity to form partnerships in students’ education. In doing so, they will feel more connected to the school and to each other, says the team at educational communication platform SimplyCircle.
“Attempt to reach out at least once a marking period to check in, even if there is nothing new to share, because there is always value in opening the door to receive feedback,” says Missonis.
Even if the teacher doesn’t have any updates, the parent might have questions or concerns they want to address, and having a regular check-in enables that communication.
2. Talk through ideas and successes as well as challenges
Parent-teacher communication is about more than dealing with the bad things. It’s also about sharing ideas and stories to form bonds with each other and to create a positive educational environment for everyone.
“Share good news and compliments when possible before having to deal with any potentially difficult issue,” says Missonis. Parents who hear only negative things about their child from teachers may not be as open to working together than they would be if teachers also share positive feedback.
3. Keep an open-door policy
Consistent communication and open dialogue require regular access. An open-door policy helps increase collaboration between teachers and parents, as well as promote mutual trust and respect.
An open door also means easy accessibility through mobile devices. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to have their hands and eyes on their mobile devices at all times. Rather, it’s about creating an atmosphere that encourages communication through accessibility.
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4. Offer opportunities for feedback
To gather productive feedback, teachers need to make it easy for parents to communicate with them regularly.
One way to easily invite feedback is through surveys. Surveys can be distributed at any time and provide good, insightful data that may not be relayed in conversations. Parent-teacher meetings are also a good opportunity to get feedback from either side in order to see how both parties can better support students.
5. See the best in others
Parents and teachers may butt heads from time to time, so communicating with a positive and optimistic mindset is important.
“Always believe that the other person has the best intentions,” says Missonis. “Everyone wants the child to be successful, but everyone is experiencing the student from a different angle and seeing and hearing different things. Growth is not an easy process, and it is important to trust and believe that our partners in this task are trying their best in this collective endeavor.”
6. Set objectives
Communication is good, but communication with a purpose is better.
John Halloran, founder of teacher communication tool SnappSchool, advises teachers, and by association administrators, to set objectives for communications. He advises them to create conversations that advance an agenda, not simply meet a requirement for outreach.
An objective provides a practical, concrete basis for communication. It gives the message a clear purpose.
7. Follow a 24-hour rule
People have come to expect instant gratification in communication. Call it a side effect of the digital revolution.
To meet this expectation and still allow for breathing and thinking space, Cheryl Paull, principal at Bradford Academy in Michigan, advises administrators to respond to teacher and staff outreach within 24 hours. This is great advice that teachers can also follow when communicating with parents.
A timely response is important to keeping that line of communication open, Paull notes, even if the answer isn’t immediately clear or available. What’s most important is acknowledging the communication.
8. Prioritize communication in digital settings
In the past few years, online education has ballooned as a result of the COVID pandemic and related technology developments. Everyone from kindergarteners to university students is learning online, which completely changes the landscape for parent-teacher communication.
“If the teacher is not seeing the student physically in class, speaking to them in the halls, or watching their social interactions because the student is learning remotely, parent-teacher communication is even more critical,” says Missonis.
“It is far more challenging for teachers to monitor the social-emotional development and well-being of remote learners, so getting feedback from parents in these situations is even more vital to ensure educators are meeting each student’s individual needs.”
9. Use various forms of communication
Thanks to classroom technology, schools have a plethora of options for establishing and maintaining a connection with parents. A number of different digital tools can help keep communication flowing. Here’s how some teachers are using them:
- Newsletters. Elementary teacher Alexis Sanchez believes in the power of newsletters, and sends one a month to parents to give them a sneak peak into her classroom and encourage families to continue learning at home.
- Blogs. Upper elementary teacher Brian Crosby believes his blog is one of the strongest teaching tools he has used for his classroom. He includes student projects, student videos, and STEM lessons and activities.
- Facebook groups. Bethene Songer, a kindergarten teacher, decided to start a Facebook group for her class as a way to communicate with parents because most parents already use it on a consistent basis. It’s a way to reach them where they are.
- Mobile apps. First-grade teacher Jessica Meacham uses the app Bloomz to communicate with parents, but she advises teachers to find the best app for their needs.
And, of course, a phone call is always an option. “Whenever possible, try to make a phone call rather than relying on email,” says Missonis. “While email may appear quicker and more convenient and is always very appealing in our over-scheduled lives, it can lead to misunderstandings.”
What’s most important is to learn which approaches are most effective with which parents to promote regular, open communication.
10. Establish and nurture trust
Trust is essential to honest communication, and Vicki Zakrzewski, education director at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, suggests trust in school boils down to psychological safety.
She explains that schools must foster environments where people feel free to speak their minds, to openly and honestly discuss what is and isn’t working, to make collective decisions, to take risks and to fail. This type of environment breeds the level of safety that leads to trust between leaders, teachers, and parents.
So how can everyone work together to build that level of trust for open communication in schools? Richard Buford, education consultant and school principal, offers some ideas for establishing trust in schools:
- Communicate clearly, openly and honestly.
- Give timely, appropriate, and honest feedback.
- Put the needs of others first.
- Celebrate the successes.
The goal of communication is student success
Teachers and parents have to work together to create a learning environment that encourages student success. To do this, everyone must be able to openly communicate with each other.
That’s not always easy. Everyone must make a commitment and dedicate time to communicating with each other. In doing so, teachers and parents can work toward their common goal: providing students with the best education possible.