No shortage of research exists on the positive effects of parental involvement on students’ social, emotional and academic development. Given the new challenges educators face—increased expectations with the new STAAR tests, budgetary pressures and formidable time constraints—strong communication with parents is essential to making sure students’ needs are met. Report cards and 15-minute parent-teacher conferences are just two of the many tools at your disposal, and this summer is the perfect opportunity to start establishing best practices for meaningful communication with parents.
One-way communication includes everything from the traditional report card to a classroom Web page on your school or district website. Please note: These communication tools can be sent electronically, but while email is a cheap and fast way to reach many parents, paper-based communications are still essential. Don’t assume that every family has access to a computer with an Internet connection.
Carefully consider the format and content of your correspondence, and use this summer to draft and plan:
- An introductory letter—This can be sent home with your students at the beginning of the school year. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, outline your classroom and homework expectations, and invite constructive feedback. It’s the start of a conversation that can last throughout the year.
- A classroom newsletter or e-newsletter—Over the course of a few weeks or months, newsletters can help build a sense of partnership and community and make your classroom a place where challenges and goals are met as a group. Use newsletters to publicize important deadlines and class events, disseminate study and homework tips, and celebrate classroom achievements. (Do be careful to maintain the confidentiality of individual students, however. Follow district policy regarding the publication of information about student work.)
- Voice mail hotline—Record a brief voice mail message at the beginning or the end of each school day or week to provide information about homework and class work. This can also be a convenient place for parents to leave you questions of their own.
The end goal of every school-to-home communication is to encourage dialogue about individual student needs; to build rapport; to demonstrate interest and empathy; and to put you in a position to learn as much as you can about circumstances that can affect your students’ academic success, including special family circumstances, extracurricular activities, bullying experiences and special needs. Establishing these lines of trust puts report cards and test scores into context for parents and can help prevent confrontations or anxiety about students’ performance.
- School-to-home communication books—A simple notebook and a daily or weekly routine can help both you and your students’ parents stay engaged, focused and consistent. It’s a collaborative document and a detailed record of an individual student’s progress over the course of a year or beyond. Set clear rules about what kinds of information should be communicated and how frequently. The notebook might include:
- Observations about classroom participation, homework completion and student interests.
- Observations about students’ strengths and problem areas in specific subjects, concepts or assignments.
- Notes toward an individualized study plan.
Communication with parents is essential for creating a plan centered on the unique needs of each student. To this end, take time this summer to make sure your communication plan reflects the linguistic and cultural diversity of your students and their families. No matter which of these tools you decide to implement, consider having your written and spoken communications translated in advance of the school year. If you are multilingual, consider volunteering to help your colleagues with translation and interpretation.