Tips for Parent Communication for Distance Learning and Beyond

Now more than ever, it is essential that teachers are intentional about communicating with parents. Whether you are back to school in person or teaching remotely through a video platform such as Zoom, teachers and parents need to be on the same team, and here's some ways to help you get started with that.

I'm excited to introduce guest blogger, Heather from Full SPED Ahead today to help give us some more ideas on collaborating with parents.

Hey there, Heather from Full SPED Ahead here to take over the Breezy Special Ed blog for a day! I am currently a middle school functional life skills teacher. I’ve taught life skills for 7 years and it is my heart and soul! I love encouraging students to reach their full potential and gain overall independence as they work with me. Another thing I am passionate about is parent communication and collaboration. I hope these tips and tricks will help you gain trust and build relationships.

Parent Collaboration 

Working with parents is so important. Parents have the opportunity to make or break your day. How many times have you come home feeling defeated because a parent made a comment about your teaching? Or blamed you for their child’s struggles? 

Open communication

Parent collaboration and communication needs to start before the school year begins. As soon as you get your caseload, you should begin communicating. 

Meeting with parents before the school year begins should be a high priority. You can begin to gain trust and build relationships.

A couple ways you can do this is by sending an email, making a phone call, sending a meet the teacher letter in the mail, or scheduling a video chat. A little bit of effort goes a long way with parents. Take the time to show them that you care. 

When I reach out to parents before the school year begins, I am always mindful of their time. Ask if it is a good time to talk and if this is the best way to contact them. Some families prefer email, while others prefer phone calls. If this is not a good time to talk, try to schedule a time to talk in the near future. 

There are a few questions I always make sure I ask when talking to parents.

  1. Tell me about your child.

    1. Nicknames 

    2. Favorite items

    3. Triggers 

    4. Medical information, allergies

  2. What are your child’s strengths?

  3. What would you like your child to improve on this school year?

  4. What would you like for your child’s future?

    1. Where do you see them in 5 years?

  5. What is your biggest concern for your child in school or in life? 

  6. If nothing else, what 2 things would you like your child to be able to do by the end of this school year?

  7. How often would you like me to communicate?

Need help organizing this all?! Grab and use this free printable and digital parent questionnaire!

It is amazing to talk to parents about the hopes, dreams and fears they have for their child and their growth. Some of these questions scare parents. However, listening to them and their story makes a huge difference in gaining their trust. 

Finally, I ask parents how often they would like me to communicate with them. This helps give me an understanding of their expectations from me. If a parent asks for daily communication, I would set up a daily communication notebook. If a parent asks for a weekly update, I may use a website (listed below) or send a weekly email at the end of the week. This ensures that I am communicating enough to meet the needs of the family. 

How to communicate

As the school year starts, it may become difficult to keep up with parent communication. I get it. Make it a habit to schedule time each week to communicate with families. Take one planning period a week to send an email, post in your Seesaw class, or send home some photos of their child. I typically use Fridays to communicate with parents. 

Here are a couple helpful websites that help parent communication:

  • Remind

  • Class Tag

  • Class Dojo

  • Seesaw

  • Schoology

  • Google Classroom

At the beginning of the school year, I always communicate with families once a week. 

As the school year progresses, I communicate with parents bi-weekly. This can be by sending reminder emails about an upcoming no school day, sending photos of their child in class, or just a general email about how their child did in a particular activity. 

(For more tools to use for parent communication, check out these 7 ways to improve school to parent communication.)

Distance Learning and Parent Communication

Since I am teaching virtually, I see the majority of my families on the screen all day. I save the last 5 minutes of every class to touch base with the parents that are on screen with me. I update them on the assignments that should be done outside of class as homework. I also use this time to answer any questions and direct them to what class they need to go to next.

During instruction time, I leave it open to parents if they want to watch me do the lesson, or follow along with the assignment posted in the Google Classroom. I have been very flexible, understanding that parents are not teachers and may not have the opportunity to sit with their child during the class. 

For students that just watch me, I make sure they are participating by answering questions. For students who are working alongside me, I have them check their work at the end and show me the completed work. Students can also take a picture and upload it to the Google Classroom for proof of assignment completion.

I also had the opportunity to print all of our beginning units for parents to do the worksheets, cut and paste activities and printable work at home. The printed work has helped guide lessons for when I am teaching. I can show families the worksheet we will be doing for that class and they can pull it out to do at home with me. This helps keep a student’s focus. 

Set up Office Hours

Another way that I communicate with parents is I have set up office hours. Each day from 1-3pm, I am available to meet 1:1 with parents that have questions or concerns. I know other teachers may not have that freedom. Try to use a planning period once or twice a week to offer parent conferences. 

For parents that truly want your extra support, set up a 30 minute meeting once a week to answer all of their questions and concerns. That extra attention will mean so much to them. This also helps manage the many emails that you get in a week; you can use those emails to guide the meeting once a week and don't necessarily have to respond to each email right away either. So even though it may sound like a lot of time up front, it can save a lot of time each day and make your conversations more meaningful and productive.

A little bit can go a long way

Above all, take some extra time to show you care about their child. Some ideas are:

  • Send cards on birthdays

  • Every couple weeks send positive messages home (make sure they’re authentic and not general). For example, “Josh did a great job in reading today” is a general comment. Try to be more specific and say, “Josh raised his hand and participated in reading today. I know reading can be a struggle for him and I loved seeing his willingness to participate. When he did his reading activity, he was able to correctly answer all the WH- questions about our story! I was so proud of him.” 

Over my last few years of teaching, I’ve realized that a little bit goes a long way with families. That extra time before the school year starts, that extra phone call you make during your school week, really means a lot to families. 

Stay in touch! Feel free to email Heather, visit her blog, or follow her on social media: Instagram @full_SPED_ahead and Facebook.

Thanks for sharing with us today, Heather!

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