In today’s society, schools and parents are responding to increased expectations, economic pressures, and time constraints. In these changing times, effective partnerships between teachers and parents become even more essential to meet the needs of the children they “share.”
When dealing with complex issues related to young people, schools and families can sometimes fall into a trap of blaming each other when things are not going well. It is important to avoid this where possible and seek to create an environment of trust, honesty and respect. The capacity to understand and show some empathy for the respective challenges each party faces (parent and teacher or school staff member) is likely to engender the type of mutual respect required to develop a positive working relationship. Both school staff and parents can feel vulnerable when communicating or interacting, particularly if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss a concern.
Teachers strive to establish partnerships with parents to support student learning. Strong communication is fundamental to this partnership and to building a sense of community between home and school. In these changing times, teachers must continue to develop and expand their skills in order to maximize effective communication with parents. Cultivating the teacher-parent relationship is considered vital to the development of schools as learning communities.
Communication may involve impressions created or words expressed. In fact, communication begins with the welcome sign when the parent first enters the school building.
Active listening helps the parent know that the teacher, or school staff member, is listening and understanding. When the teacher thinks they know what the parent means, they reflect back both the content and any accompanying feelings. The parent can then confirm the accuracy and reframe or correct the information. This provides active engagement and helps both the teacher and parent to gain a better understanding of the situation.
Increasingly families are becoming more complex and have varying expectations of what the school can provide. Continuing to reflect on and develop staff communication skills will ensure that all staff, including graduates and staff new to the school, will be well prepared and ready to communicate effectively with parents. Communication is a twoway process where school staff and parents share information with each other and are ready to work together in an ongoing way.
One popular communication strategy is a phone call home. As the teacher of a multi-age class, Gustafson (1998) called the parents of each child in her class monthly to discuss concerns or to answer questions. She noted that these contacts provided her with valuable information about the lives of her students, including extracurricular activities, bullying experiences, and a death in the family.
Lastly, teachers are encouraged to follow-up the meeting by preparing a written conference summary in line with school board policies. Additional follow-up activities might involve making appropriate referrals, discussions with relevant teachers, or planning specific instructions or strategies. Effective parent-teacher conferences also require important interpersonal skills on the part of the teacher (Evans, 2004; Perl,1995; Studer,1994). Communicating a genuine caring for people, building rapport, conveying interest and empathy, reflecting affect, and using clarifying statements to ensure an accurate understanding of parental views are all highlighted. Use of everyday language and a non-threatening tone encourages conversation. Appropriate open- and closed-ended questions also help gather information and seek parental input.
COMMUNICATION THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
In recent years, educators have experimented with various technologies to communicate with parents in innovative and time-efficient ways. Integrating technology can help schools communicate quickly to a broad parent community (Ramirez, 2001). Classroom phones and voice mail, video technology, radio announcements, and school Web sites are all examples. Phones in each classroom permit teachers a flexible opportunity to contact parents from their classrooms when students are not present. Use of voice mail to augment phone communication has been specifically explored to enhance communication opportunities with parents.
Aronson (1995) further suggests that schools create a brief 10-minute video to welcome new families to the school including an introduction, tour of the school, portions of a “lesson in action,” and an invitation to become involved. e use of video technology has also proven effective as a communication tool for parents of students who have severe disabilities.
Technology also holds promise to allow teachers communication opportunities “not limited by school hours or location” (Brewer & Kallick, 1996, p. 181). Student performances can be videotaped and presented to a larger audience at convenient times. Students may create digital portfolios that can be shared with parents on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, student learning plans may be accessed online, enabling goals and progress to be shared with parents. Indeed, the capacity to link homes and schools with new technologies provides many novel opportunities to enhance communication with parents beyond the traditional formats.
Source: Bluestein, J. (2001). Creating emotionally safe schools: A guide for educators and parents. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Article by: Busayo Tomoh