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Collaborative partnerships are critical to the success of diverse learners. Two key partners in this collaboration are teachers and parents, yet communication between these two stakeholders can break down easily. This practice uses parent perspectives to identify factors that enhance teacher-parent communication. We focus on five main strategies.
Watch this video to learn more about this practice.
Preparing to teach
Education is a partnership between the child, the parents and the school. Knowing your students and the school policies and frameworks for communication, and supports available are important first steps in any teacher/parent communication.
Know the supports that are available in your school
Your school will have guidelines and frameworks for parent-school communication. Find out from your school leadership team what supports are available in the school for meeting with parents. Talk with your colleagues about the school culture regarding parent collaboration and consider how best you can work with parents in your particular school climate.
Finding a suitable time for parent-teacher meetings is not always easy. Ask the parents in your class about meeting preferences e.g., time and places to meet; how they prefer to communicate; and family circumstances that might make meeting with you difficult. Share times that are suitable for you and negotiate the best way to get together for those parents who would like to do this.
Below you will find some simple practical strategies to assist in building relationships and communicating effectively with parents. These strategies highlight the parents perspective and include quotes and observations from a parent's perspective.
Watch the video to hear more about the importance of communication.
1. Knowing the child
When a child has a disability, parents fear they will be rejected, be assigned to the special education teacher, be misunderstood, or be known as their disability not as a genuine member of the class. This can put parents on the defensive and can make them wary in their interactions with teachers. Being aware of this can enable you to set a positive tone for the conversation.
Being aware of the the child's strengths and interests, personality, and their engagement and interactions in class with you and their peers, can help you to navigate planned and unplanned conversations with parents.
|“And it was just really nice that she just wanted to meet him, no expectations of his support needs, but she just wants to get to know him, she wants to get to know our family”|
2. Being solutions focussed
It can be easy to focus on the challenges associated with including all students, and sometimes conversations with parents can seem to be more about problems than solutions. Rephrasing statements can make a difference in your interactions with parents.
- Ask parents about the types of activities their child will finish at home and the types of activities that they are more likely to sit for.
- Do the parents have successful strategies that they use at home and/or what classroom strategies have been effective in the past?
Frame your conversations with parents around strategies for collaboratively working towards student success.
“Being able to have strategies, being able to articulate them, being able to genuinely think about ways to support him and educate him, demonstrates for us how much they care”
3. Listen to parent’s expertise
Your experience and knowledge as a teacher are important and parents rely on, and appreciate, your teaching expertise. Students with disability are very individual and we often have to learn what works best for them on a case-by-case, person-centred basis. What works for one student might not work for another. Talk to parents about their child and use their knowledge and experience to help you identify and develop strategies and tools to support their child. When teachers and parents share their expertise, this is the foundation for a very productive partnership!
Parents have described how they relax when teachers ask them questions. Parents do not expect teachers to know everything and appreciate it when teachers are proactive about trying new approaches and collaboratively looking for answers.
“That was a complete turning point in our relationship … We just got all out on the table … those moments of vulnerability actually … make people connected. You connect because … at the end of the day, the teachers are human beings the same way as we are. We’re all on a journey, it's different, we're all trying to work towards the same thing”
This is why parents and teachers sharing their expertise is so important and leads nicely into our 4th strategy – “we” statements.
4. Talking in terms of “we”
Education is a partnership between the child, the parents and the school. This means using language that is consistent with a collaborative approach. When teachers and parents talk in terms of “we”, a collaborative tone is set and both parents and teachers feel they are in this together. “We” statements encourage and promote connection.
“Using ‘we’ language as well, like it becomes a collaborative ‘this is us, we're all in this together. I’m part of the team. You're part of the team. We're all just doing our thing,’ as opposed to it feeling as though it is ‘us and them’”.
In the classroom
Tips and strategies
1. Know the child:
- Share your observations about their child when you are talking with parents
- Talk about the child’s personality, interests, and strengths as well as where they need support
- Greet the child and the parent when you see them in the playground
2. Be solutions focussed:
- Approach issues in a collaborative, pro-active way. Focus on how the issue might be resolved rather than just describing the problem itself.
- Speak about the child in a positive way; tell parents what you have noticed happening in the day. There will always be something to celebrate. These encouraging moments can be shared in whatever way suits you best, for example, quick phone calls, a brief chat at pick-up time, class newsletters, class noticeboards.
3. Share expertise:
- Ask parents about their experiences and the strategies they have tried successfully. Parents will have insights to share that will assist.
- Ask about strategies they use at home and about previous educational experiences or other activities the student is engaged in.
- Be open to trying new things together and sharing what works and what doesn’t.
- Ask colleagues or parents if you are unsure or need assistance.
4. In decision-making and problem solving, talk in terms of “we” (what parents and teachers are going to do together).
Think about education as a collaborative responsibility between teachers and parents and use conversations that demonstrate this, for example:
“The school athletics carnival is coming up. We know that this is a challenging event for Tom. Let’s meet to discuss some strategies we can implement to support Tom to participate”
“Sofia is struggling to remember to bring her homework. Let’s make a time to meet to discuss how we can support her.”
5. The “little things” that mean a lot:
- Casual interactions are important in building relationships
- A friendly greeting in the morning can work wonders in a relationship – this can be as simple as ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’
- Brief chit-chat about something other than school can help you and parents get to know each other
- Small, relaxed interactions at pick-up time can help build your relationships with parents
This practice will work best if you:
- see parents as valued partners
- engage with parents
- plan time for conversations and relationship building
It doesn’t work if:
- expertise isn't shared
- communication is only one-way
Practice implementation planner template
We know that it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:
- Guidance around goal setting
- Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
- Prompting questions
Set your professional learning goal for:
Communicating with parents
Benefits of goal settingSetting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
How to set goalsThe Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.
SMART goals refers to goals that are: