6 Parent Communication Tips from One Administrator to Another
Communication and relationships are the most critical factors as to how parents feel about their child's school, as well as how professionals at the school work to ensure that student learning is taking place every day. As a school leader, how you communicate ultimately determines how successful you are because you set the tone for everyone else in the building.
In my most recent post, I discussed three critical steps for building a solid parent communication strategy. You can see that here.
Now, I wanted to share 6 tips for effective parent communication that I've learned through research and firsthand experience. I hope they'll be as useful in your practice as they have been in mine.
#1 Remember, You Are Always Communicating
Everything you do communicates something, whether it's positive or negative. If you arrive at school with a storm cloud hanging over your head, it will permeate every interaction you have with parents that day. If you arrive with positivity exuding from every pore, you will very quickly have that positivity returned to you many times over. Parents are savvy, and they immediately pick up on how you present yourself.
Attending both traditional events (Friday night football games, awards assemblies, prom) and non-traditional events (golf matches, Science Olympiad meets, speech and debate tournaments) matters, but being present at all these things can matter even more. Being present means interacting, asking questions and exuding enthusiasm about the event.
Parents will see this. More important, they will feel it.
#2 Ensure Good Front-Line Communication
As an administrator, you know that your front-line office staff and how they present themselves to the community are often viewed as an extension of you and your effectiveness. Work to ensure that they are friendly, courteous, and efficient when communicating with parents—from answering the door to answering the phone and returning calls.
#3 Crisis Communication: Be Honest and Efficient
A district in North-central Ohio believes in the following methodology for crisis communication: tell the truth, tell it first, tell it all, and tell it fast. Crisis communication is different today than it was a generation ago. It may be human nature to want to soften bad news for stakeholders, but today people know and are on the lookout for the most common crisis communication falsehoods. Telling the truth is not only the appropriate strategic thing to do—it's simply the right thing to do.
Being first and being fast while attempting to be comprehensive can be tricky. In an age of cellphone videos and social networking, you will never compete against that kind of instantaneous footage. You can, however, start telling the truth about an incident immediately.
Open, honest communication helps mitigate the flotsam that will be floating around, rallies the community around correct information, establishes your credibility in working through a crisis, and maintains a truthful, stable storyline for when the media comes knocking at the door.
#4 Disciplinary Communication: Beat the Student Home, Partner with Parents
Always beat the student home with disciplinary information. An e-mail just won't do here—you have to pick up the phone.
One option is to call the parent with the student in the office. Notify the parent that they are on speakerphone and that their child is in the room. It's often best to adopt a pleasant, non-combative, matter-of-fact tone in this situation. The discipline isn't personal, it represents accountability and an opportunity to do better in the future.
Another option is to have the student make the initial contact with the parent and to tell their parent why they are in the office or being disciplined. This option seems to work best when it is used sparingly in a scenario when the student has vocalized that they were in the wrong and/or their behavior is best explained directly from student to parent.
Alternatively, you may want to ask the parent to partner with you in determining a student's consequences. Sometimes getting creative—substituting an after-school community service project for a suspension, for example—can be a student-centered, positive way to maintain accountability.
#5 Be Relentlessly Positive
Make a positive phone call home to a family early in the year and it will cement the positive relationship for the rest of the year. Be positive and present regarding student news and events and it will be recognized and appreciated. Adopt the attitude that there is a permanent referendum on the performance of the school and district and you will find that your interactions with parents will naturally take on heightened importance.
If you were a teacher, many of the communications strategies you used when you were in the classroom may be cross-applied to a leadership role. Celebrate and keep kids at the core of how you communicate and seek opportunities to reach and represent non-traditional programs and students, and you won't go wrong.
#6 Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
While communicating, you are reflecting both on your own communication in the moment and demonstrating that you can reflect the words and emotions of others. Proceed from the assumption that parents are experts when it comes to their children; seek to understand them before you try to make yourself heard; and use reflective listening techniques to demonstrate that you have done so.
Reflection also occurs after communication has taken place. After each communication to parents, ask yourself these key questions:
- Did I achieve my ultimate objectives?
- Did I successfully communicate how much I care?
- Did I strengthen my relationship with the family?
- Did I serve the other person by how I communicated?
The answers to these questions will inform next steps.
Go Forth and Communicate (Effectively)
Armed with positivity and implementing proactive communications strategies, you are ready to soar. Relationships are everything in our field, and as a leader you must set the example for all to follow.