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Tips for Successful Teacher-Parent Communication

A mother picks up her son from school as the teacher speaks to them.

Setting appropriate boundaries and staying consistent can help you build a more effective, communicative relationship with your students' parents.

Teacher-parent communication is key to getting parents involved in their child's education. Parental involvement can result in better grades and test scores for students as well as improved social skills, according to Edutopia. In addition, kids whose parents are involved in their education have better attendance and participation and are less likely to be disruptive.

Given all the positive effects of parental involvement, most schools regularly reach out with open houses, parent-teacher conferences, school websites, newsletters, and family events. Parents who take advantage of this outreach tend to be more supportive of the school, says Edutopia.

Further Reading: Positive Parent-Teacher Communication

Teacher Tools for Parent Connections

Besides school-wide efforts, teachers work to keep parents informed about what students are learning and their progress. Elementary teachers often send reports home about the week's activities and what's coming up. Some teachers include a parent comment/question sheet in a "Friday Folder" that kids take home and bring back on Monday signed by a parent to show they've seen it.

Teachers also use technology for parent communication. In a Common Sense Education post, teacher Jeff Knutson says tech can "streamline the teacher-parent communication chain" so he spends less time responding to parent phone calls and emails. If your school doesn't have a school-wide communication site, Knutson suggests teachers use an online website, a classroom blog, or even Twitter to keep parents informed.

Tips for Successful Teacher-Parent Communications

Whatever communication method you choose, teacher-parent communication works both ways. Parents will still contact you with questions or concerns ranging from homework assignments to discipline and everything in between.

So have a plan to respond to parents, says Scholastic. Your plan might include the following suggestions:

  • Tell parents at the beginning of the year how and when you'll contact them to answer their questions or concerns. Then, be consistent.
  • Remember that you don't have to answer every question or make important decisions on the spot. It's OK to say, "I need to think about your concern and how best to address it."
  • Don't surprise parents by waiting until their child is failing to alert them.
  • Take time to send a good news report to a parent now and then.
  • When you meet with parents, be prepared to tell them what strategies you've tried with a struggling or disruptive student and what new strategies you're considering. Ask them what they think and listen to what they say.

Having a plan when you talk to parents helps prevent being caught off guard. A plan also relieves the pressure to quickly come up with a solution to a perceived problem.

When Parent Communication Is Challenging

While the great majority of parents are supportive, just about every teacher knows what it's like to face one who isn't.

One year, two of my students were fooling around outside my classroom. One pushed the other into the door of a small freight elevator, knocking it off its track. The door now leaned into the shaft trapping the elevator against the opposite wall. Inside were two custodians and a load of desks. It took an hour to dislodge the door and rescue the men. The students were suspended.

The following morning I received an angry email from a parent. She said this incident was my fault because I didn't do a good job of supervising my students. The second day she said her child shouldn't be punished because, after all, no one was really hurt. On the third day, she threatened to sue the school and me.

I answered the first two emails as politely and constructively as I could. I forwarded the third to the principal.

Teachers would likely agree that working with the occasional disgruntled parent is part of the job and staying calm can help resolve a difficult situation. For example, one teacher told me that a parent insisted that her daughter be allowed to use her cellphone during class if she wanted to. The teacher explained that if one student could do that, all students could. Would the parent want her child in a class with 10 other kids talking on their phones? The parent reluctantly agreed that, no, that was not an ideal learning situation. Her daughter put her phone away during class.

Knowing how to respond in situations like these without making matters worse is a skill teachers need to have in their toolbox. Here are some tips to approaching some of the more difficult conversation you might have with parents:

Tips for Tough Discussions

We know that irate parents are the exception rather than the rule, but you need to be prepared to work with those exceptions when they arise. Here are a few specific tips for those circumstances:

  • It's OK to wait a day before responding to an angry or hostile email from a parent. You may need time to cool down to make sure your answer is constructive rather than defensive.
  • Whatever the parent's tone, be unfailingly polite as a teaching professional. Being calm and respectful can mitigate challenging circumstances.
  • Invite the parent in for a face-to-face meeting. Many people (not just parents) find it easier to be hostile online than in person. Also, suggesting a meeting shows that you're willing to listen and take the time to resolve any issues.
  • If you think a meeting might be contentious, loop in your principal ahead of time.

And here's one extra tip. Don't give any parent, supportive or not, your personal cell phone number. For your own mental health, keep your professional life and your personal life separate.

Further Reading: Mastering the Parent-Teacher Meeting: Eight Powerful Tips

Student Benefits, Teacher Benefits

Students benefit the most from parent involvement, says the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). But strong parent communication helps teachers learn more about students' needs and their home environment, making them better able to meet those needs. And involved parents have a more positive view of teachers, resulting in better teacher morale.

So communicating with parents benefits kids, parents, and teachers themselves. We want to make sure we can do it well.