Explore five tips for communicating and connecting with families in order to develop a positive home and school partnership.
Teachers know how important parents and guardians can be to the educational process. After all, these caretakers are our students’ first teachers, and they set the stage for future success in school. Parents and guardians can also help to motivate and support our students while simultaneously reinforcing our classroom expectations. With a strong home and school partnership, students often perform better and have a better overall attitude toward school.
The research supports this positive relationship. A study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that when parents received a daily phone call or text message, students showed a 40% increase in completing homework, a 25% reduction in teachers needing to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand, and a 15% increase in class participation. Similarly, in a 2019 study from Columbia University, when parents were sent weekly, automated messages about missing assignments, grades, and attendance, their students showed a 12% increase in attendance and a 28% reduction in course failures.
It makes sense that when expectations are reinforced consistently by all the adults involved, students will be more likely to follow the suggested path. This stability and consistency can benefit students both academically and emotionally, and if a concern eventually does arise at school, the positive relationship between parents/guardians and the teacher will enable everyone to work more collaboratively to support students through their struggles.
As you prepare for the start of the school year or the next term with a new group of students, consider how you can use these five tips to connect positively with families. These connections can make a positive difference for you and your students.
Because the school-to-home relationship is so important, try to reach out and establish this connection before the first day of school. This purposeful effort on your part will help parents/guardians see that you care, and it will help you set up your classroom and students for success. Think of it as a welcome activity for the school year. It can start to shape attitudes and expectations and also be a powerful way to introduce yourself. This can be an effective first step in connecting with your students and families and building trust and community.
This doesn’t have to be overly time consuming and can even be done as a form letter, but however you reach out, be overwhelmingly positive. You want to set the tone for the school year, and you want families and students to be excited about the learning journey before them. Consider some of these ideas for reaching out before the first day of school.
Send a letter or email.
Send a welcome letter or email to your students and families. Save yourself some work by checking with your school office staff to see if there is a way to get a list of emails and addresses. Your school might even have a process for bulk mailings that you can use. Often, your student information system (SIS) will have available emails that can be exported.
Send digital greetings through available systems.
Most schools already have a messaging system in place. Many times, these are built into a SIS. This can be an efficient way to send out a greeting to all of your families from a central location.
Record a video introducing yourself and describing your classroom.
There is no substitute for seeing a face and hearing a voice. By sending a video message, you can connect with families in a more personal way, and you can reduce the chances that your words will be misunderstood. You can include a link to your video if you send it through email or your SIS. If you use paper mail, consider creating a simple, personalized short URL to your video. This will make it easier for families to type it into a browser. Bitly (Tips) is a free and customizable URL shortener. You might also consider adding a QR code for families who find it easier to scan a code and access your video with their phone. QR Code Generator is free and easy to use.
Send parents/guardians information they will need to connect to your digital classroom spaces.
This is a great time to let parents/guardians know how you will communicate with them throughout the school year. Be sure to consider what information families will be seeking, like where students will be accessing resources online, where grades and assignments can be checked, and how/when families can communicate with you.
Invite parents/guardians to school-sponsored events, like open house.
Does your school sponsor events, like open house, activity sign-up day, student pictures, or technology distribution nights? When you reach out, be sure to include information about these face-to-face events. While this virtual reach-out is a great start, a personal meeting can make your relationships with parents/guardians even stronger.
Share district and classroom calendars.
Include calendars and key dates in your communication. This can help your families feel empowered and included.
Outline how and when parents/guardians can contact you.
This is key information and will help make families feel welcome to reach out to you. The next section of this article will explore how you might set up your classroom communication system.
Strong relationships start with strong communication and trust. Therefore, it is important to set up a user-friendly communication system for your families and then clearly communicate it out to them. The simpler and more consistent that it is, the more likely they will be to use it.
“Strong relationships start with strong communication and trust.”
There are many communication systems available. The best one is often the one to which you have easiest access. If your school sponsors a system, that is usually your best place to start. A few popular options are included below.
Learning management system (LMS)
This can be a great central hub for communicating and sharing classroom resources. Most LMS platforms have a parent access feature to help keep them connected, and many have smartphone apps that provide notifications, as well. Some examples of LMS platforms are Canvas, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Google Classroom. Seesaw (Tips) is a parent-friendly student portfolio and learning system that makes parent/guardian communication quick and easy, and it works well even with the youngest learners.
Student information system (SIS)
Most schools provide online parent/guardian access to student gradebooks. These systems often include direct messaging systems for sending announcements to all students and families.
This is more of a one-way communication system, but it can be an effective way to push out information to one, consistent location.
Free options, like Remind, can allow you to set up secure messaging systems to push out text messages to students and parents/guardians. It can send information directly to the place that most students and parents/guardians have readily available: their phones.
Your communication system should include several key components:
- How and when can families reach you?
- How will you share important classroom information and announcements?
- How can families review student academic progress (grades, assignments, etc.)?
- How will families access and log in to available digital accounts?
For more information about setting up a classroom communication system, check out the AVID Open Access Establish Your Communication Plan article.
Even a strong start to the school year can fade if you don’t maintain regular connection with families. To keep the relationship alive and strong, it must be reinforced throughout the school year. While conferences between teachers and parents/guardians, as well as open houses, are effective connection points, they will likely not be enough. To establish meaningful connections and really empower parents/guardians to participate in the learning process, you’ll need to go beyond these school-sponsored dates. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you develop a plan.
Schedule regular contact opportunities.
It’s easy to forget to do this, so consider putting reminders on your calendar or schedule a delayed email to yourself reminding you to reach out to families. Try to reach out to each family several times per year. You might even want to put specific student names on your calendar, so you can keep track of the families you’ve contacted.
Send both whole-class and individual messages.
- Whole-class messages, similar to those you used before school began, are ideal for pushing out reminders, deadlines, and announcements. They are a quick and efficient way to help keep families informed.
- Individual messages can go a long way toward strengthening relationships with families. This extra effort to connect gets noticed and is often appreciated. If you can, send a personalized message to each family; this could be a quick email message or a short phone call. If you’re sent to voicemail, you can leave a short message. These messages signal that you recognize each student as an individual.
Provide digital portals to information.
These may already be integrated into your communication system (which is great), but make sure that parents/guardians know how to access and log in to these platforms. Encourage families to set up their personal accounts, if available, and remember to post new information regularly. If there is never anything new to see, families will stop checking.
There is a significant difference between communicating with families and empowering them. Communicating with them is very important and keeps them informed. While you can make this personal at times, it still functions largely like a business transaction. Empowering families, on the other hand, shifts the role of families from a passive observer and receiver of information to a full participant. Empowered families will generally be much more invested in the process, which can lead to more intentional support of their children’s learning.
Create a two-way communication system.
Give families a voice. Make sure that your communication system includes a way for them to communicate with both you and their child. Better yet, don’t just provide this opportunity, actively encourage it. Hearing from parents/guardians can provide you with valuable insights into their child. A two-way communication system also feels more collaborative, builds greater trust, reduces misinformation, and informs both ways. For families who speak another language, consider providing translation tools, such as ImTranslator or Google Translate.
Provide resources to help parents/guardians support their child.
Most parents/guardians want to help, but many times, they don’t know what to do. If you can provide specific resources and strategies for them to use with their children, they will be more empowered to act upon their desire to help. This may be as simple as informing parents/guardians on how to check on student grades and progress, or it may include more instructional supports. Perhaps, you offer a booklist or links to strong instructional websites. You might share flipped videos of your lesson, so they can learn alongside their child.
Include families in the school/classroom.
Are there opportunities to connect families with classrooms and schools? Sports teams often have booster clubs that go above and beyond in supporting athletes and teams. Can you build a similar connection to your classroom? Here are a few ideas that can help you begin to make these connections.
- Invite parents/guardians to class events, like performances, awards events, and celebrations.
- Offer volunteer opportunities for parents/guardians, such as being a classroom tutor or after-school monitor, helping staff a book fair, facilitating a fundraiser, or providing a helping hand at a school track-and-field day.
- Provide a way for parents/guardians to comment on student work. Programs like Seesaw allow them to comment on or “heart” student posts. You could also encourage parents/guardians to fill out an online form with comments that you collect and distribute to students or encourage them to send a Valentine’s Day card to their child.
Written communication can often be taken out of context or misunderstood, even when the senders have only the best intentions. There are no tones of voice or facial expressions to help interpret meaning. Therefore, remember to communicate with care throughout the process of establishing relationships and connections with families. Here are a few tips and reminders that can help you set yourself up for success and avoid misunderstandings as you reach out to families.
Always share positive insights about a child. Every conversation should include positive comments, even if you must eventually address a concern. What is something that the student is especially good at? Did they treat a classmate with kindness? Did they share an insightful answer? Did they perform well on a class activity?
Celebrate the good.
This is closely connected to the previous point, but it builds on the idea that success leads to success. When we celebrate the good, we build up student self-esteem and allow them to develop grit to overcome challenges along the way. Every student deserves to be celebrated, and by sharing this celebration with parents/guardians, we can build up our students.
Respond within 24 hours.
This might seem overly simple, but it’s very important. A quick response shows you care. If you are especially busy and need more time to thoughtfully reply, you can send a message acknowledging that you received the message, that you don’t have time right now to give your response the attention it deserves, and that your full response will be coming later.
Reread messages before sending.
Text is easy to misunderstand, and when you are in a hurry, it’s easy to type something that you did not intend. In addition, written messages often lose the subtleties of facial and body language that we get when speaking face-to-face. Therefore, be sure to reread your message before sending it. If it’s an emotional message, consider saving a draft, waiting an hour or two and then rereading it with fresh eyes before sending it.
Keep parents/guardians informed.
No parent/guardian wants to find out for the first time at a conference with you that their child is struggling. Make sure that parents/guardians are continually updated on the progress of their child.
You can be warm and inviting, but use professional language in your correspondence. Anything that your write or record becomes a permanent record, so be mindful of what you include. Above all, don’t have important (or private) conversations on social media. Even when families are personal friends, be aware of the line between personal and professional.
Listen and validate parent/guardian concerns.
This is an important part of developing trust. Parents/guardians have insights that you may not have considered. They see their child in a different environment and are aware of different events that are happening outside of school. By listening and validating their important perspective, you will strengthen your partnership with them. It is also important to remember that not everyone will see a situation in the same way.
Extend Your Learning
- 6 Questions to Tackle When Communicating With Families (Teacher.org)
- Communicating Effectively With Families: Tips for K12 Schools (SchoolMint)
- Apps and Websites for Improving Parent-Teacher Communication (Common Sense Education)
- Parent Engagement in the Digital Age (Edutopia)
- Kraft, M. A., & Dougherty, S. M. (2013). The effect of teacher–family communication on student engagement: Evidence from a randomized field experiment. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 6(3), 199-222.
- Bergman, P., & Chan, E. W. (2019, July 8). Leveraging parents through low-cost technology: The impact of high-frequency information on student achievement. Journal of Human Resources 1118-9837R1; published ahead of print.