Living Arts Weekly: Parent-Teacher Communication

August 18, 2019

Love is higher than opinion. If people love one another, the most varied opinions can be reconciled — thus, one of the most important tasks for humankind today and in the future is that we should learn to live together and understand one another. If this human fellowship is not achieved, all talk of development is empty.  — Rudolf Steiner


Social Awareness

As we approach back-to-school time, parents and teachers both experience feelings of hopefulness mixed with trepidation. Teachers hope they can meet the needs of the children and also engage their parents in a mutually supportive way. Parents hope the teacher establishes a heartfelt connection with their child, and that the curriculum aligns with their values and goals for their child.  It’s a situation that calls for a great deal of trust and good communication.

In programs where families and staff are respectfully and authentically
engaged in meaningful relationships, everyone learns how to appropriately
share power. As Jim Greenman explains in Art of Leadership: Engaging
Families in Early Childhood Programs, positive interactions with families
come from the agreement that parents have the power to:
Be Upset
Question Why
Decide Together
When families are invited to understand program goals, philosophy and
expectations, feel safe expressing all feelings (even “upset”), ask the
questions most important to them, and share in decision-making, then true
partnership is enjoyed by all.

For a successful start to the school year, parents and teachers should prioritize establishing positive communication. Here are some tips from Walden University (adapted by me):

  • Be warm. 
    A little friendliness goes a long way. Whether you’re communicating via email, text, or in person, be warm, be welcoming, and offer encouragement. In person, smile, shake hands, and make eye contact.
  • Be positive.
    Effective communication between parents and teachers starts with positivity. If your goal is to voice a concern, start out by saying something positive. Like friendliness, a little positivity goes a long way.
  • Foster a sense of trust.
    The basis of effective communication starts with trust. It’s essential for parents to trust their child’s teacher, and teachers need to be able to trust the parents in their class. Teachers/caregivers should keep family details confidential. Parents should not air grievances in the parking lot or on the playground.
  • Communicate often.
    Also make sure to communicate often! A common mistake made by teachers/caregivers is simply not communicating enough, or only reaching out when there’s a problem. Communicate regularly with parents and they won’t be on high alert when they hear from you. Parents should communicate with teachers/caregivers often, not just when they have a concern.
  • …and in forms that work for parents and guardians.
    One size does not fit all when it comes to parent-teacher communication. From newsletters, message boards, and email to social media, texting, and phone calls, experiment with what communication tools work best.
  • Make parents and teachers feel valuable.
    Great parent-teacher communication starts with making parents feel valuable. Teachers, encourage parents to participate in your classroom or program and share their strengths. Parents should make a habit of showing their appreciation for the teacher/caregiver’s work with their child.
  • Acknowledge involvement. 
    Parents are not required to participate in their child’s education. Whether it’s a parent or guardian taking the time out of his or her day to meet with you or participating in school events, it’s important for caregivers and teachers to acknowledge contributions and express thanks. Parents should thank teachers/caregivers for taking time out of their day or evening to meet with them or have a phone conversation.
  • Ask questions (and listen!).
    Ask questions. Listen and absorb the information. Ask follow-up questions. Do not approach a conversation merely to say the things you want to get off your chest, but as a chance to listen and learn.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
    Teachers/caregivers, don’t make assumptions about a student’s home life. Be mindful of the fact that families come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Parents, don’t assume that your perception of a situation is correct.  There are often factors you don’t know about. One of my children’s favorite teachers liked to tell parents, “I’ll only believe half of what I hear about you if you only believe half of what you hear about me!”

Blessings on the start of the school year.

Mary O’Connell, Your Living Arts Weekly blog editor