Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Getting to the Bottom of Parent Communication (Freebie)

I have found that the greatest piece of advice I have ever received about being a successful special education teacher is to communicate with the parents. A strong relationship between the parents and teacher can be a world of difference in a school year. We special education teachers know that there is a lot more paperwork, data, documents and information that follows our little kiddos around for their entire educational life. It's extremely important that we keep good records and that we maintain a positive and strong line of communication with the parents. In my experience, I have had some very challenging parents because they have had to be such strong advocates for their children in this world and they do not trust anyone at first. I always make it my goal to break down that barrier and develop trust and a sense of partnership between us. Here are bits of advice as you begin to plan for September!

Decide how you will communicate and stick to it.

I have surveyed parents before on communication and have heard this: The most frustrating thing is when teachers say they will do something and they don't. For example, if you say that you are going to post homework on your class website every day, post it. If you say you are going to send home a weekly newsletter, send it. If you say you are going to use Twitter for class updates, tweet it. If you say you will post grades on Fridays, post them. Parents get irked when teachers don't follow through and they begin to feel like you are not making their child a priority. My advice is to think long and hard before you promise any communication to parents. Make a plan. Decide what works for your life and your schedule. If your resources allow it, have an aide post the daily homework for you on your class website. Just don't promise things that you will not be able to commit yourself to when the goin' gets tough!

Be clear about when you can communicate.

At Open House I always stress to my parents that emailing me is the best way to get a hold of me for non-emergency communication. I can send a quick response while my students are eating a snack or taking a bathroom break. In my school, we cannot answer phones in our classroom so if parents call the school, I may not get the message until the end of the day (sometimes even the next morning). I recommend giving parents a flier that outlines exactly what times are best to contact you. If they are always calling you during the school day and you can never get to the phone, they will feel exasperated. If you check your email at home or on your phone, let them know that. They will be grateful for the quick response or at least the timely response.  

Know who to contact.

In many cases, parents have developed their own plan about who is in charge of communicating with teachers. I can't tell you how many times I have given information to the *wrong* parent...Mom is in charge of son...Dad is in charge of daughter...Mom is in charge of all school...Dad is in charge of all meetings at school....Dad is a teacher, he handles that....Mom has kids on get the idea.    I try not to figure this out on my own anymore and I just come right out and ask the parents to tell me. I have them fill out an information sheet at Open House and I keep it in my student information binder that goes everywhere with me. 

Find out how much communication they require.

One year, I had communication books that I committed to writing in every. single. day. It was exhausting and I was spending my whole planning period every day filling out communication books. The most tiring thing was not knowing if the parents really cared, wanted that much information, or even read it! I had them initial it and some parents would write back, but there were others that I didn't know if they really wanted it. Then once I started, I couldn't stop because I had committed to doing it. So I decided that this year I would do my research. I found what level of communication each parent wanted. Some parents truly only want to hear from you when there is a problem. Other parents want to know every detail of the day. On my parent information sheet I had them choose if they wanted daily, weekly or only on an as-needed basis. From there I discovered that the majority of parents wanted weekly communication, so I did a weekly Friday folder (completely manageable). There were a few parents that wanted daily communication so I created a system for that. What a difference it made knowing that I wasn't wasting my time and that the parents had a say in it!

Click here for a copy of my parent information sheet. For more information on using Edmodo as your main source of communication, click here. Thanks for reading!

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