Parent communication is often a source of some stress, even for seasoned teachers. I have found that my most relaxed colleagues are the ones with a bullet-proof policy for parent communication. Professional policies work in our lives much like our classroom procedures function for our students – giving clear guidelines to reduce stress and allow for a positive work environment. Here are some tips to help you craft your own parent communication policy.
1. Set clear boundaries from the beginning.
You know that parent packet you toil over for Back-to-School Night every year? Or perhaps the one you simply recycle every year? That is the best place to start communicating your Parent Communication Policy. Clearly delineate how and when you are available to speak with parents (via any platform), go over this policy during your BTS presentation, and STICK TO IT.
A word about parents… For the most part, parents are wonderful people concerned to have a positive relationship with their child’s teacher in their child’s best interest. But, in this day and age of instantaneous communication via text, social media, SnapChat, etc., parents most likely aren’t aware of the need for boundaries between themselves and their child’s teacher. You will get parents who want to text all day, be friends on Facebook, and hang out and chat before, during, or after the school day. I will tell you right now, that is a mistake. The only way to regulate your relationships in a professional way is to have an iron-clad Parent Communication Policy that you stick to.
Click HERE to read an entire blog post I have about setting boundaries.
2. Know your options for optimal communication.
I’m just going to say this once – Do. Not. Give. Out. Your. Personal. Phone. Number. Or your personal email. As easy and natural as it feels in this day and age of instant gratification, sharing your personal number is a blurring of professional boundaries. Once a parent communicates using this method, they will start waiting for your reply. If you take too long to reply, they may get worked into a snit, while really your time is to be spent with your students or taking your breaks.
Luckily, apps for classroom management have proliferated in the tech world. When setting up your classroom systems for the year, take some time to review the options. Your school may even have a preferred app that they use already. Some examples of apps with parent communication components are Bloomz, Remind, and ClassDojo. Research is important, because many of these apps have other awesome features, like tracking class behavior, recording grades, or sending important class reminders out on a schedule. They all have features that allow whole-class communication in addition to personal communication. Use a combination of perhaps one classroom app, your work email, and the school phone number as the options to get ahold of you.
3. Establish “office hours” for reasonable expectations.
Everyone these days is conditioned for instant gratification. However, you are not obligated to respond to parents on their timeline. When establishing your Parent Communication Policy, clearly articulate how parents can send you messages and when they can expect a response. Then, follow through with dedicated time to read and respond to messages at a consistent time. If you have time in your day when you feel like you can be personally available to parents to chat, you can also include this in your policy. Otherwise, communicate your policy for lead time when parents want to schedule in-person talks. Communicating your policy in a friendly but clear manner establishes good boundaries, and following through will greatly simplify your life.
4. Know when to get back up.
Despite our best intentions, parent communications can sour abruptly sometimes. Due to a misunderstanding, unmet expectations, or even factors outside of the school environment, parents can become unprofessional or uncivil in their communication. Make sure you always communicate in a professional manner and retain documentation as a back-up plan. Once a relationship or communication becomes worrisome, go to your administrator for support. Start BCCing them right away, and develop a communication problem-solving strategy. It can be a huge problem-solver to have an in-person conference with the administrator present.
The importance of parent relationships is second only to the importance of your relationship with your students. However, you cannot be all things to all people. Establish clear professional boundaries. Conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times. Know when to involve support when dealing with difficult communication. And, most of all, don’t take it personally! That leads to stress and impacts your ability to stay professional. Teaching is one of the most interpersonal professions there is, so use these tips to maintain professional and stress-free parent communication.