Tips and Tricks for Parent Communication in the Upper Grades
Parent communication is just as important at the upper grades as at elementary, but it may look a little bit different. It is a critical piece of helping students to be successful!
I teach high school in a very urban, Title I district, where parent communication is problematic. My husband is a teacher in a nearby but much more affluent suburban district. I double-checked with him as I was writing this because his experience with parent communication is so different from mine.
In talking to him, there were a few common threads in our experience communicating with high school parents.
Communicating with High School Parents
- Some people send out something like a newsletter or updates, but most do not at this grade level. Parents would have to keep track of too many different classes, and, honestly, at this age level students should be starting to keep track of more themselves. Parent communication with parents of high school students seems to be focused more on individualized progress updates and concerns, positive or negative. This might include a recent change in student behavior, missing homework assignments, risk of failure of a marking period, or a positive phone call home for a big positive change.
- This communication needs to be done in a way that is convenient to the parent, and easily accessible. Communication that parents can’t or don’t readily receive/access is not useful. You have to meet the parents where they are in order to communicate effectively. In his case, many parents prefer emails. In my case most parents don’t have email, or don’t use if reliably, so a phone call is the best method, or a text message.
- If you have announcements for the whole class you may want to look into Remind or Bloomz. I have used Remind as a teacher, and have been on the parent side of Bloomz this past year. I think Remind would be a better fit for the upper grades, but either would work. Remind is simpler, it operates completely through text message, but Bloomz has more features if those are something you are looking for.
I do have some tips for you to make that communication easier. I know parent communication can be frustrating, and is often something that slips through the cracks or gets left behind in the long lists of other things that you, as a teacher, are supposed to be doing. If we can find ways to streamline that process, it will be easier, and be more likely to be accomplished!
- Make yourself email templates for common emails that you will write over and over so that you don’t need to recreate the wheel. If you are emailing a parent about risk of failing the marking period, chances are you aren’t just emailing that one parent! Depending upon your preference, and the email provider that your district uses, you may want to save them as drafts, email them to yourself and put them in a folder, or in outlook save as templates.
- Use a Google Voice number to text or call parents. I have quite a few parents who don’t have local numbers (so I can’t call them from the school phone), who frequently are not available at regular times, or who prefer a text. I am not very comfortable giving out my personal cell phone number, but I created a Google Voice number that I use as a ‘work’ number. I am including a few resources or using Google Voice for teachers. It is free and also allows me to see if it is a ‘work call.’ Here is a good video tutorial on setting up Google Voice for teachers. A quick Google search will turn up MANY more articles. As an extension, here is a great post I found on other things teachers can do with Google Voice.
- Set aside a time once or twice a week to sit down and make a bunch of phone calls/write emails/leave messages. I have found that if I don’t, it won’t get done. However, if I try to hard to catch up with one parent I can get stuck in the phone tag loop, and not get much accomplished. Instead, I set aside one class period, or half a class period twice a week, and make 5-10 phone calls. If I don’t have that many concerns, I use the time to start making some positive phone calls. (That could be a whole other post, but SOOO worth your time).
Whichever option you choose, it is important that you build relationships and rapport with parents and get them working with you to help the student succeed. I can’t overemphasize the importance of a positive relationship between the parent and teacher, and having that support at home.
Lastly, when you make individualized home communication (phone call, email, or text), document it!! This will benefit you if there is every a question later, it will help with your evaluation, and it will help you be up to date and informed the next time you talk to that parent if you have a few notes about the last time you spoke, and what was discussed.
Some people like to document in a notebook, or on index cards (one per student). Those are perfectly fine. However, I prefer to use a Google form to document. I keep it bookmarked on my browser, and it automatically time stamps. I have made pull downs for the method of communication, and some other common things. Then I can quickly fill it in. Later I can sort or search by student name and see all the times that I have tried to make contact. You are welcome to make your own Google Form (its pretty simple) but if you’d like to take a look at mine, make a copy, and make your own changes, click here. For editable templates that I used when communicating with parents, check these out.
I hope this helps to get you started on a more organized school year, as you think about parent contact in the upcoming year. Feel free to check out my other posts at my own blog.