Communications with parents are key to getting the school year off to a great start
Tips for School & District Administrators

Strong Communication Gets School Year off to a Great Start

By Brian Gatens

We all know that one of the requirements of getting the school year off to a strong start is clearly communicating our expectations and guidelines to students and parents. This should include hard copies of letters outlining expectations, perhaps a sheet for parents to sign and return, and the posting of these expectations on your class website.

And while that’s a good start, there are several “above and beyond” things you can do to drive home the idea that parents need to fully understand your class’s goals if they want their children to succeed. Putting some extra effort into keeping families up to date on your class will keep parents and students active and engaged the entire year. A few thoughts on making that happen:

Give a try

One of the most innovative (and simple) services for teachers is, which allows you to use a computer to send text messages to the phones of parents and students. The sign-up is easy to use and your text messages are sent without the option to reply.

These messages provide a great way to push out information to your class and the community. Examples could include reminders about upcoming tests, class activities, or something as simple as the need to return a permission slip. I’ve seen it used as both an administrator and as a parent and find it extremely helpful.

Share parenting tips

My experience has been that many parents, even if they are hesitant to admit it, enjoy receiving articles, advice, and suggestions on how to grow as a parent. I’ve found that parenting, as rewarding as it is, doesn’t come with an instruction manual and that the occasional article or Web link from a teacher is appreciated.

As part of the communications you send to students’ homes, consider including a relevant article or two on popular topics such as helping children succeed, developing strong peer relations, and organizing for success. It’s best to pass these articles along as an “FYI” to the parents with no expectation of any action other than reading them if they choose.

Embrace online grade reporting

As I’ve written before, the cultural shift to immediate information and updates in all areas of people’s lives has spilled into schools. Years ago, parents would receive formal updates roughly every 10 weeks in the form of paper report cards. With online grade reporting and parent portals, many districts have shifted to real-time grade reporting with teachers posting ongoing grade updates during the course of the year.

It’s important to establish your posting schedule, tell parents about it — and stick to it. From time to time I’ll meet with an unhappy parent and very often the lack of grade updates and/or too little information will be their primary concern. Also, seek guidance from your school administration about making the most of online grade reporting.

Set a tone of professionalism and enthusiasm

The tone of your communications sends a signal about your expectations. Sure, a lot of parents fondly remember the stern schoolteachers of their youth, but I think you’re better off setting a tone that balances high professionalism with high enthusiasm for your subject matter.

You have to communicate high expectations and rigor to your students, but it has to happen in support of subject matter you consider important to their growth as learners. Excitement and enthusiasm are a tremendous help in setting a strong communication tone and an atmosphere of high expectations.

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