The two words “family communication” can strike fear in the hearts of teachers looking at TPEP rubrics, National Board standards, etc. Many teachers I know, especially those who work in high needs communities, struggle to feel this is an area of strength. For many teachers in these schools missed conference appointments and out of order phone numbers are commonplace. They can make teachers feel frustrated and ineffective as family communicators.
Frustration at the lack of regular, quality communication with families can lead teachers to give up or continue investing in conventional but ineffective forms of communication.
Without explicit effort from teachers to make contact with families the whole first quarter can whiz by without communicating with parents outside of conferences. When families are preoccupied with daily survival and teachers are consumed by building classroom routines and expectations this isn’t really suprising.
I’ve found that you don’t just have to work hard to communicate with families, you have to work smart. Pouring hours into a classroom newsletter every week when 2 families are reading it is not the best way to spend limited time and energy. It took me many years of updating my webpage, sending home a newsletter and hoping for the best. “Check” I said to myself on the family communication rubric. And yet, I still had low family engagement and a feeling of disconnect from my students’ families.
The good news is that as teachers we know how to differentiate for our students; we need to use those skills to do the same for our families to make a personal connection.
This Fall I made a goal to be more systematic about collecting information about how my students’ families prefer to be contacted. To accomplish this my student teacher and I took the basic survey I give every year at open house and took it deeper. You can find an editable version I used here;
We asked families through a series of easy check the box answers;
What type of communication do you want from your teacher? How, when , and why is communication from your child’s teacher wanted and meaningful to you?
We asked about language preference, method, frequency and reason they’d like communication. The answers were, as to be expected, varied. Some families wanted text messages (I use an app that shields my personal phone number), some preferred a hand written note. I synthesized this information into a table that had the information for each child’s family and hung it near my desk. Then I scheduled the regular contacts requested into my google calendar. I set the requested frequency and the information; “send Juan’s mom an email about behavior”, “send Nataly’s mom a text about math”, “call Mia’s grandma about her social skills” pop up on my computer now.
After a few months of following through with this information I began to see results. I had perfect attendance at Fall conferences. Many families started showing up to school evening events & I had 12 family members attend our last classroom publishing event. Although these accomplishments may sound small they are big indicators of increased family engagement in my school.
In this area and in many others I continue to find that it all comes down to relationships; when you ask people how you can meet their needs, and then do so you are sending a message; I see you, I respect you, let’s work in partnership for your child’s benefit. All families I know would love to hear that message from their teacher and school.