Four Tips for Effective Parent Communication

Team up with parents to understand and support your students with a united front.

By Eliana Osborn

Teacher in front of parents

Do you feel confident in front of your class, but tongue tied when it comes to talking to parents? Never fear, you aren't alone. No matter how good a teacher you are, working with the adults in your students’ lives can be a scary proposition. Read on for smart strategies to build positive relationships with parents.

1. Have a Script

Before you pick up the phone to call home about that incident when Billy smacked Sally, know what you want to say. What are your goals in this conversation? Do you want to simply present information, or do you hope to elicit information from the parents? There’s no shame in working off of notes, whether you are talking on the phone or face-to-face. If you are prone to emotion, jotting down an outline of what you want to cover can also help prevent you from getting off track.

2. Start Positive

There will come a time when you will have to talk to parents about bad grades, bad attitude, consequences, and other unpleasant subjects. If this is the first time all year that these parents have heard from you, the conversation will be harder than it needs to be. Instead, in the first two weeks of school, reach out to the family of every child in your class. This could be done through a postcard with a short, handwritten note, about a cute or smart thing the child has said. Or, an e-mail works too, but make sure it is personalized, and that you get some type of answer so you are sure they received it. Parents love to hear that someone else notices their child as an individual. So if you start off building that relationship, it will make later, more serious, talks go more smoothly.

3. Ask for Advice

Not sure what motivates one of your students? Can’t really figure someone out? Parents are great resources here. Almost any issue you have, families have had to deal with similar behavior before. So don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If Jose has a hard time finishing assignments on time, talk to mom. She might reveal that her son worries about perfection. Or she might let you know that this is an improvement over last year when he didn’t do any work at all. Either way, you’ll be better informed and better able to help.

4. Have Options

Parents can feel threatened when teachers talk about problems or issues with their child. Appreciate this protective impulse and try to work with it instead of getting defensive. Phrase your comments and concerns as things that you want to be part of solving with the family, not as places where they are failing as parents. Presenting a parent with possible solutions instead of telling her what she must do can be a subtle change that shifts the dynamic away from blame. So, if Martina is going to have to spend extra time working on reading, have a variety of ideas ready:

  • A tutor during school hours
  • A tutor after school
  • A community program that pairs a high schooler with a younger learner
  • Parent working with her child using materials provided by teacher, etc.

When a parent feels like he/she has some choices for remedying a situation, many problems can be averted. Remember that you both have the same goal: a positive, successful learning experience for each student. If you can approach parents with a teamwork mentality, and work together to find solutions to various challenges, most likely everyone will succeed in attaining this goal.