Parent Communication Part 4: Take Notes!

Communicating with parents can get tricky. You will have some parents who are determined that there is certain information they did not know. That was never told to them. Etc.

Just like every child you teach are different, no parent is exactly the same either. But some parents can show similar patterns. I like to think that when you have conferences with parents and you bring up things their child needs to work on, or what they are struggling with, there are times when the parent/guardian feels overwhelmed. Making it harder for them to fully digest what you’re saying. There are also times, I think, when I give the parents too much information or resources and they mentally shut down. When this happens they often come back and say, “You never told me this.” Or, “We didn’t know our child was struggling in this way.” Or, “We didn’t know these resources were available for our child.”

Now, you know this is not your truth. You, as a teacher, did everything you could to meet with the parents, and give them information/resources, asked for their opinion, etc. But, it very well could be their truth. Everything went in one ear, and out the other. 

My principal gave me this idea last year when dealing with parents who often said I did not communicate certain things to them. Instead of getting defensive, which I have been guilty of, oh so many times, she encouraged me to take notes of every meeting or phone call that I have with parents. Don’t get me wrong, I usually always document my meetings, but she suggested a step I never thought of. After the meeting is over send the highlighted discussion points, or the meeting minutes, to the parents. You can open this email with, “Thank you for your time today. I am glad we were able to meet and talk about ______. Here is a summary of what we discussed and our next steps.” Etc. 

You can add “next steps for at home” and “next steps for at school” to keep both yourself and the parents accountable. This information often gets documented by teachers and kept in files… but when you send an email to the parents right away, you can refer back to that email when they come to you saying, “they never knew”. 

One way to do this is by forwarding the message you sent earlier. You also want to be gracious and allow the parents to save face. As I mentioned earlier, maybe they really don’t remember you saying something. Maybe they were overwhelmed or tired. By forwarding the email you can remind them what you discussed and apologize if it wasn’t made clear during the meeting, or give them room to say they missed the first email. It happens. 

No one ever told me that the hardest part of my job would NOT be teaching the children, but communicating with parents. I hope these past four blog posts have been helpful for those teachers just getting started, or for teachers who like myself, had to learn by doing.

Enjoy the start of the 2019-2020 School Year! Or for those in the middle of their teaching year, enjoy your final stretch (the end is near!).

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Parent Communication Part 1: Start Positive!

It’s that time again! Well, uh, for those of us not in Australia or other places like South Korea that start the school year in Feb/March… I am talking about Back to School Time, obviously. Some teachers have already recently opened their doors to a new class of students, while others are just a few weeks away.

While getting my classroom ready and lesson plans prepped (just kidding, no lessons have been prepped yet) I’ve been reflecting on how I start every school year. I decided to do a series of blog posts about Teacher-Parent Communication. The one thing they never taught us eager educators in college. Yeah, it’s a gross oversight if you ask me.

For the next four blog posts I will cover the following topics:

  1. Start Positive (this post!)
  2. Build a Community
  3. Value Your Parents Expertise
  4. Take Notes!

At the beginning of every school year I want my first form of communication with my students’ parents to be a POSITIVE one. Because there may come an email or phone call not too long after… that is not entirely positive. First impressions are important. Imagine  if the first thing your students do when they meet you is pointing out all of your flaws as a teacher? Ew.

Therefore, I make it a goal to send a positive note home, about each one of my students, within the first two weeks of school. This keeps me accountable to get to know something about all of my students quickly and see specific skills, talents, or behaviors they have that add value to our class. I am a firm believer that every child who comes into my class adds value.

How you send this positive note home is up to you. I tried doing physical notes home and sometimes they wouldn’t make it to the parents (because I teach the littles). I have worked at schools where we are not allowed to call directly, and I have worked at schools that have not allowed me to email parents directly (yes, that’s a real thing, and it was hard). It depends on where you are and what works best for you. I have landed on sending emails.

Here are two examples of emails I sent at the beginning of last year. I changed the names but the rest is the same. Find something specific about each student to give positive feedback on. They don’t need to be long. My goal is to send home two or three a day,  the first two weeks of school. You may be wondering if two weeks to get a note home is still too long to hear from the teacher, especially if you teach younger kids who are just beginning their educational journeys. Because I don’t have any visible superpowers (yet) and don’t have the time or energy to do 25 emails within one week, especially the first week of school,  I make sure to communicate with the entire class of parents what we do in the first few days of school. (I cover this more in Part 2: Build a Community.)

Email Example 1:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

I wanted to send you a quick note to tell you how much I love having Jane in class. She is responsible and kind, and always helping me remember things I may forget. She’s a great classmate, too!

Kind Regards,

Melody Welton

Email Example 2:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Robinson,

Joe made my heart smile big time today! He had a few tearful moments this morning as he is learning all of the new classroom routines. Joe couldn’t remember his floor spot, so he didn’t move to the rug when the rest of the class did. I asked him why he stayed in his chair and was impressed when he was able to communicate, “I forgot where my spot was.” 

This afternoon he gave me a quick side hug when entering the classroom after putting stuff in our cubbies 🙂 I look forward to getting to know Joe better this year!

Warm Regards,

Melody Welton 

Who can’t wait for the never ending sea of laminating and cutting to begin?!

Parent Communication Part Two: Build a Community, is up next! 

“What can I do for my child at home?”

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The title of this post is the most frequent question I get from parents during parent/teacher conferences. It is the question I hear from almost every single parent who has a child learning English as their second, third, or fourth language.

For the past six years, my answer to that question has remained the same.

Read.

Read to your child, have your child read to you, have a baby-sitter read to your child, have your child read to a baby-sitter (or a sibling!), have your child read on their own. Read. Read. Read.

I have never done an official study on this, but I can tell you what I have seen happen in my classroom. This is my sixth year teaching in an international school setting and every year I have at least one or two students who start the year with no knowledge of the English language (this year I had four!). I also have students who speak very little English, or speak English as their second language. Most of my students fall into those three categories: No English, Some English, Multiple Languages. The beauty of international schools.

I have never had a child in my class who has not been able to learn to communicate in English by the end of the year through speaking, reading, and writing. But I have noticed that the students who grow the most in these skills, are students who read (and are read to) the most.

Reading builds vocabulary and permeates into every other subject.

Because I am in Korea and we lack a plethora of English books, especially at the beginner reader’s level, I introduce my students and their parents to http://www.kidsa-z.com. (I am grateful that this is a supplemental program my school invests in.)

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On the side… it is also important to note that being able to read doesn’t just mean you have the skills to sound out letters and blend them into a word. Reading is also about comprehension. It is essential to talk about what you read, and ask questions, and answer questions and all that jazz. When my students achieve a level of fluency where they have the skills of reading simple words and stories I  ask them what the book is about and encourage parents to get their child to talk about what they are reading at home.

If you have resources, such as websites, that work really well in your classroom or for your child at home, please share in the comments! We LOVE comments.

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*images courtesy http://www.pixabay.com