Here are some areas to consider & ideas:
- Grades trump all else. The main thing parents/care givers and students want to be consistently updated on is their grades. Your school may have a system that parents and students can access from home, but if not, try to give your students updated grade information at least once per week. You might give them a log and they record their grade every Monday to take home or if you have the Excel skills, you can use mail merge you can create a personalized update to send home each week.
- Choose one tool for general information. The more streamlined your general communication, the easier it is for parents and students to be on the lookout for it. One option is to send out a monthly or weekly newsletter with a calendar and updates on it. Another option that many of my colleagues have started using is having an Edmodo page for students and parents. Edmodo is like Facebook for education; a way to keep everything above board and block out the distractions and risks that come with Facebook. Parents and administrators can join your class and you can create calendars, post assignments, announcements, pictures, have discussions, and lots more.
- Make it predictable. No matter your tools for grades and updates, make the timing as predictable as possible. Whatever the schedule, try to stick to it so families know when it’s coming and so are more likely to make reading it a weekly routine. If they are receiving random e-mail updates or notes from school at irregular intervals, it’s hard for families to look for and engage with the information.
- Distribute strategically. Your preference for communication may not work for all of the families your work with. Consider asking parents at the beginning of the year whether they prefer e-mail, paper, or Edmodo/social media-type updates (or whatever options you can accommodate). Some parents may be very uncomfortable with newer technologies while others may work at night and not have a chance to see any papers their child brings home, so you may need to vary how you distribute the information to ensure all families have reliable access to it.
- Set the tone. As soon as the school year begins, make the first move with an introductory phone call to your students’ families or care givers. They’ll appreciate the gesture and be ready to engage with you positively moving forward. Especially for students who end up struggling academically or behaviorally, this first impression can make or break your hard work together later on.
- Set some boundaries. Now that we can text, e-mail, and message each other on all sorts of channels, it’s good to get ahead of things and set up some expectations at the beginning of the school year. While you don’t want to set up too many barriers, it’s okay to tell parents and students you’ll respond to e-mails within 48 hours or to ask them not to use text to communicate, for example. And if you’re not comfortable engaging on social media (or your school doesn’t allow it), go ahead and tell them that, too. Much better to be on the same page from day one versus having to have an awkward conversation when your communication preferences clash.
- Set some goals. Once classes get rolling and you get busy, it’s easy to slack off on communicating with parents or even students. Before that happens, set up some goals for yourself. Many YES Prep teachers I’ve worked with aim to make 5 positive parent interactions per week. You could also set a goal for having individual progress conversations with all of your students a certain number of times or maybe you want to work on building relationships with certain students and so you set a goal for how often you reach out to them. (Try this post for ideas on building relationships.)
Experienced teachers, what communication systems and strategies do you use to keep students and families informed? Add them in the comments for others to borrow!