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Four Ways to Communicate with Families

September 20, 2017 / by Gretchen Vierstra

Depending on when your school year started, you’ve probably made it through the initial sprint of setting up routines, establishing the foundation for your class culture, and everything in between. Now as you move into the fall, it’s time to evaluate and refine your communication with families.

  • How are you letting them know about your classroom’s activities?
  • How are they learning about the progress of their children?
  • How are you getting families involved?

Check out these four tips for communicating with your students’ families throughout the school year.

Stick to a Plan

You probably started the school year with a plan for communication. If you used one of Tch’s Back to School Starter Packs, you read our recommendations for how to establish communication with families. (If you didn’t check out the Starter Packs, it’s not too late!) Now that we’re a bit further into the school year, it may be time to adjust the plan based on how it’s going for you and your families. Maybe a weekly newsletter is just too much for you after all! No matter what, don’t get too busy and drop your communication plan altogether.

Consistency brings calm to everyone, including families. So, if you need to cut back your weekly newsletter, let your families know that the newsletter is now bi-weekly. Or perhaps you’ve found an easier tool for weekly communication. Give it a try, but make sure to let your families know what you’re trying and why. Read this blog post for tools you might use beyond a typical newsletter.

Personalize It

While a weekly form of communication with the entire class is great for general updates, you’ll also need ways to communicate with individual families. One of the simplest tools is email. In fact, teachers and families email each other so often that your school may even have a well-defined email communication policy, so if you’re new to a school, be sure you find out if there's already a policy in place.

Email is simple to use, time-flexible, and quick, but it can be tricky. In this post, Sarah Brown Wessling explains how to avoid unintended consequences when communicating over email. And don’t forget, communication isn’t just about academic concerns or behavior issues. Go ahead and write an email about how a student had an excellent day or made amazing progress. You could even make a good old fashioned phone call.

VIDEO: New Teacher Survival Guide: The Parent-Teacher Conference

Get Ready for Conferences

Fall is often the time you first meet with families in one-on-one conferences. These meetings are a good way to dive deep into the student’s experience in your classroom so far. If you’re a new teacher, check out this video for tips on how to prepare for and conduct these conferences. If you’re a pro at conferencing, consider trying something new. One idea might be a student-led conference. In this blog post, Tch Laureate Marion Ivey explains how she conducts them.

VIDEO: D.E.A.R. Reading: Family Style

Bring In The Families

As an educator, you know that positive family involvement in the school community improves student outcomes -- you may have read the studies or noticed it yourself anecdotally. And bringing families inside your classroom is a great way to show rather than tell them what’s been going on. But even when you know the good that comes of bringing families into your room, it can be hard to make it happen.

This blog post gives advice for how to get started with involving families, from thinking about how they can volunteer to helping them get connected with each other. You could even host a regular event that brings families and students together in your classroom. In elementary grades, consider trying shared reading experiences with families. Watch this video to see how teacher Kimberly Laurance builds community through family-style “drop everything and read” times. Or, try a family engineering night at any grade level. Read Liza Rickey’s post on how to get one started.

Family communication is an important part of your overall class culture. Be sure to check out our Class Culture Deep Dive for even more resources.

Topics: Class Culture, Lesson Planning, Teacher-Family Engagement, Communicating with Families, Resources

Gretchen Vierstra

Written by Gretchen Vierstra

Gretchen Vierstra taught middle school for ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. During her 15+ years in education, she’s also been a department chair, new teacher coach, curriculum developer, and policy analyst. She is Director of Educational Content at Teaching Channel.

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