Communicating with Families: Planning for Meaningful Partnerships
Now that the school year has commenced, you may be thinking of ways to improve communication with families in an efficient and proactive way!
When and How?
Knowing when to communicate with families is key to a strong home/school partnership. In general, it is important to start the school year or semester off with strong communication. Updates and general information can be shared monthly. When addressing performance, you want to do so early. When addressing behaviors it helps to have a relationship that includes positive behavioral contact, as well. There are many methods of communication, and it may take some time to find one that works for you. If you are not familiar with these, check them out and see if there are any that could help simplify your family communication.
Barriers and Solutions to Communication
Despite our best attempts to have strong home/school connections, there are still some issues that create barriers to communication. The following chart highlights some concerns that may impede your communication with families, as well as some solutions to address them.
|A Gap in Expectations||Use Family Questionnaires (English and Spanish) to get to know families Encourage involvement and share goals|
|Work Schedules||Offer multiple ways to meet (in-person, zoom, phone)|
|Limited Resources(transportation, childcare)||See if your school/district offers support for childcare/transportationFlexibility in how you communicate (phone, zoom, in-person, home-visits if allowed and supported by district)|
|Complicated CustodialRelationships||Check with the school social worker or counselor to honor agreementsSend multiple copies or make sure all parties are included in communication|
|Cultural Differences or Immigration Concerns||Secure translators, know your students’ rights, learn strategies for partnering with families of ELL students and familiarize yourself the needs of immigrant families|
|Prior Negative Experiences||Validate past experiences, share in addressing goals and offer concise information in easily accessible formats|
What happens when communication goes south?
Despite your best efforts, there may be times that a conversation does not go as planned. When this happens, start by attempting to diffuse the situation. You can also provide yourself with an escape. For example, saying “we don’t have to make decisions today” can cool down the situation. If you anticipate a tricky situation, invite a colleague, your principal or team lead. During the conversation, keep the focus on the student and use data/evidence for support. Families may get emotional (anger, tears, so give them space to hear what you are saying.
Best Communication Practices
Here are some ways you can maximize your communication practices! Aim for a response time less than 24 hours. You can be proactive and flexible, but also inform Parents of boundaries early. For example, provide them with a start and end time to your day and make it clear that there will be no email on weekends (listen to or read) upfront. Keep records to demonstrate patterns, secure translators from your district for conferences and get documents translated into the language spoken in the home. Also remember to follow appropriate protocols for social media and consider these tips to power up your communication.
We hope that these tools and tips for communication will help support best communication practices in your classroom this school year.
Kathy Fields, UNC-CH