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From sending progress reports to messages about performance or behavior, we communicate with caregivers daily. Sometimes you will need to reach out to a student’s caregiver, or their caregiver may reach out to you. Research shows that parental involvement correlates with student performance. It also shows that communication focused on improving behaviors has the most significant impact. According to Cotton and Wikelund, researchers discovered, “the more active forms of parent involvement produce greater achievement benefits than more passive ones.” Active forms of parent involvement can include talking to their students about their artwork, encouraging them to join your art club, or volunteering to help set up your art show. The more caregivers directly engage, the better.
Unfortunately, sometimes calling or emailing home prompts a negative or defensive response. This can make a conversation more challenging. Don’t fret! It is important to keep the research about parent involvement in mind. Sharing strategies with caregivers about actively participating in school is a helpful tool, especially if the conversation turns difficult. Taking the time to discuss how they can become involved is one way you can build the relationship and make the chat more productive. With some preparation and guidance, you can turn the tone around and have a successful talk.
Taking the time to get to know your students and their home dynamics can prove invaluable. When students and their families know you are invested in them, they will be receptive to more difficult conversations later. Because we have hundreds of students on our rosters, it is unrealistic to connect deeply with each student. The good news is that there are still ways to create meaningful connections.
Establishing a positive rapport now will help you gain the confidence of families, establish trust, and open the doors for communication down the road if a challenge presents itself. To that end, never underestimate the power of the positive note, phone call, or email home. Parents and students want to hear from you when things are going right—not just when a concern arises.
Connecting with your colleagues before contacting families is a great strategy. You can apply their insight to your communication. Elementary classroom teachers have established closer relationships with their students’ households. At the secondary level, a colleague may have had a student or a sibling for multiple years. Confidentially chatting with other teachers can also tell you if an issue is isolated to your classroom or is a broader concern.
It can also be helpful to find out who the primary caregiver is, how involved the caregiver typically is, and if caregivers who maintain separate residences require separate phone calls.
Starting on day one, maintain digital or physical folders for your students. The goal is to paint a holistic picture of your student that tells the story of their home life, what makes them feel successful, what they struggle with, and how they prefer to learn.
Focus on building relationships and inviting conversation as a two-way street with parents and caregivers. They should feel reassured that contacting you with concerns, questions, suggestions, and praise is welcome! You can help to establish this through a brief introductory email or newsletter.
Have your student files available and maintain a digital log or paper trail documenting each communication attempt. This is a best practice because it keeps you organized and provides a record of your efforts in the rare event there is a bigger issue. Include the reason for your call, the caregiver’s response, and any final decision or next step. in the log
Finally, consider the impact of the ongoing global pandemic and the impact it has had on us all. For some, the emotional toll may be projected onto teachers, caregivers, and school administrators. Offering positivity and patience can go a long way.
It is common for caregivers to follow tangents and raise multiple points during a call or within one email. If your conversation moves off-topic, return to the goals and refocus the chat.
It is also common for a caregiver to reach out to you unexpectedly, stop you in the parking lot after school, or try to talk about their individual student at a school-wide event. It may not be appropriate, you may not have time, or you may feel unprepared without your notes. Whatever the case, it is important to address the validity of the concern while maintaining healthy, professional boundaries about when you will have the conversation.
In either scenario, be sure to insert a conclusive statement about following up, so it is clear when and how the communication will continue.
We are all busy with an endless list of to-dos on our plate. Just know that a quick phone call or email can be positive and productive simply because you took a few minutes to reach out and establish a connection. Challenging conversations with caregivers are inevitable, but we hope the strategies and phrases above will be helpful when they do happen. Use them as guides to become more comfortable communicating with caregivers this year. When we are proactive and encouraging with our approach upfront, the difficult talks become much easier down the line.
For more resources on communicating with caregivers, check out the following:
What has been your biggest challenge when communicating with a difficult caregiver?
Which tools do you use most often to communicate positivity?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.