My first few years teaching, I made the mistake of only contacting parents for less-than-stellar items: late work, poor behavior, etc. For many of the parents I dealt with, this was the first communication they had with me over the phone after meeting me at Back to School Night. Bogged down, like many first and second year teachers trying to find their footing in the education world, I hadn't thought about proactively contacting parents BEFORE behaviors or academics became an issue. Truth be told, there were so many other issues that seemed more pressing, that positive communication was always put on a back burner.
Now that I'm six years into my teaching career, I have been able to witness the miracles that positive communication from a teacher can have on a family, and in turn, their child. I've made it my mission the past two years to ensure that the first contact I ever have with a parent once the year has started is positive. Not just a generic, "we had a great first week" in a newsletter that gets sent to everyone on Friday as I'm cruising out the door to prop my feet up on that first exhausting week, but a truly genuine message about their child that shows I am invested for the long haul.
Most of the time, I prefer the first positive contact to be via telephone. There's something very personal about being able to reach out and hear the relief in their voice when you say "No, I'm not calling about anything bad. Johnny's fine! I just wanted to touch base and tell you _______." I guarantee if your first contact via phone is to tell them that you enjoy how their child always includes others in their games at recess and never leaves anyone out, they will remember this. Parents will see that you took an interest in their child and that you are willing to notice and recognize the good.
From there on out, you will have a much easier time calling about the tough stuff. A tried and true tip? Always sandwich a negative with two positives. For example, "Johnny did a great job on his math test last week. Did you see the paper come home in Friday Folders? I wanted to touch base because I've noticed he's rushing through his math work this week and scoring poorly. I know he's such a hard worker and I know you are super supportive at home, so I wanted to make you aware so you could talk with him about it, too." This automatically shows parents that you are on their side and want what's best for their child.
Is it going to be hard to find something nice to sandwich it with all the time? Absolutely! But it is worth it. It's easy to forget how we might sound to parents when we call and only focus on the challenges. I'll never forget the pit in my stomach when I ended a call with a parent once and she, through a tearful voice, asked if I had anything nice to say about her child. It killed me! In my exhaustion of trying to get papers graded and parents contacted after a long and difficult day, I had forgotten that parents are humans too, and they want to hear the best about their child whenever possible! I vowed to never make that same mistake again.
My favorite way to keep in constant communication throughout the year is my Positive Parent Postcards. I print out a class set on regular cardstock at the beginning of each year, cut them out, and stick them on my desk with a class set of address labels already printed. I set a goal for myself to send out one postcard to each family within the first month of school (on top of calling each of them in the first two weeks!)
As soon as I have exhausted my first stack, I print another set of address labels and print a variety of my seasonal postcards (included within the original bundle). I print a few fall themed ones, a couple Halloween versions, and some Thanksgiving/Christmas themes. Then, I cut them out and set them on my desk (they need to be visible... out of sight = out of mind!) I try to look for really authentic ways that their child is excelling in the classroom. Then, as soon as it happens, I can quickly jot down a nice note, slap a label on it, and drop it in the mail! The labels keep me accountable for really watching out for the kids who still have labels left on my sheet, and every 6-8 weeks I am able to cycle through everyone. I do the same thing after Christmas break for Valentine's Day... and even tax time!
These postcards are available in English and Spanish. I have also included a "Super Student" option that is inclusive of ALL family types! (Tip: If you know right away that you have students who do not have parents at home, put their label on a Super Student card right away. This will keep you from getting rushed and sticking their postcard in the mail with "parent" plastered across the front!)
Teachers have expressed such positive reviews for these postcards. It warms my heart to hear these are helping so many teachers across the world connect with parents! The best part? If you grab the bundle now, you will get free updates for life! I anticipate adding more postcards as the need arises and I come up with more ideas (like this distance learning postcard with a technology theme!)
I hope this blog post has given you some great ideas on how to start (or finish!) the year off strong by focusing on the good. Drop a comment below if you own these and let other teachers know what you think!
What are some other ways that you promote positive communication in the classroom?