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Why it's good to talk

In person or online, communication between parents and teachers is essential for sharing information and solving potential problems.

This article was first published in the SCMP Good Schools Guide.
By Marianne Lagutaine, MA (AThr), MA (Coun)

Twice a year, parents receive progress reports updating them on their child’s academic development. In some schools, students’ activities are also shared through ongoing digital postings. These both give insight into a child’s progress, but are one-way lines of communication. They are not intended to stand in for ongoing dialogue between parents and teachers.

Research has shown that clear, open lines of communication between parents and teachers offer benefits to children on behavioural, social and academic levels.

Parents and teachers are able to discover and address issues before they escalate. Sharing information and strategies, they can work together to solve those challenges. Aligning expectations for behaviour also goes much better for everyone when there is collaboration between parents and teachers. 

Build Rapport and Connection

Brief, in-person conversations are great for quickly discussing student behavior and progress. Whether it is at drop off or pick up, during volunteer times, school sporting events, or other convenient moments, connecting in this way builds rapport and natural opportunities to check in. These are great times to address small issues, or simply ask how things are going.

It is okay if children are present for some of these “mini-meetings”, too. It sends a strong signal that parents are engaged and interested in their child’s education.

For working parents, or at schools with compulsory busing, these types of opportunities may be limited. Fortunately, there are other ways to connect. Many schools have special communication protocols just for parents and teachers. Whether it is a school-issued email account, or an online platform that allows parent-teacher messaging, reaching out via electronic means is helpful to keep communication open and flowing.

One channel particularly suited to parent-teacher communication is email. It is a convenient way to communicate that allows for independent response time (necessary for teachers in class), measured responses, and can accommodate culturally and linguistically diverse families.

Communicate with Care

While there are more ways than ever to connect, the availability of multiple communication channels has also created more ways to be misunderstood.

Additionally, for teachers, time spent engaging with parents can impinge on other duties. For parents, they might feel they are ‘bothering’ the teacher or alternatively be tempted to become overly involved. It’s a delicate balance between having a good understanding of your child’s progress and allowing your child to move at their own pace through school.

In my professional capacity, I have had many conversations with parents and teachers, and it is clear that on both sides the value of regular communication is recognised. Equally, it seems that both parties would benefit from some shared guidelines to facilitate the process. What follows are their suggestions for best practices.

  1. Do not rely on one channel alone. Some modes of communication are better suited than others, depending on the topic of discussion. For example, when sensitive issues arise, always speak in person or via the phone. For teachers who are placing a call, be sure to let the parent know up front if the call is for emergency purposes, or a less urgent matter.
  2. Before hitting send on any electronic communication, take a moment to review your emotions, your motivation, and your message. Would it be better raised in person? Is the communication effective and informative? How much time will it require to respond?
  3. Keep an open mindset, emphasize the positive, and strive to be solutions-oriented when problems arise. Remember, you both want what is best for the child.
  4. Be considerate of time. Do not expect responses outside of work hours. For in-person meetings, be on time and do not let meetings go longer than scheduled.
Closing the Loop

Research shows that when parents communicate with teachers, they are able to understand the learning process better. This includes knowing when tests, homework and projects are scheduled. This information then can be part of talks at home to plan and prioritise work, ultimately helping students do better academically.

Indeed, it seems science has proven that having a parent know all about your school life, and hang over your shoulder and crowd your style — just that little bit — might be a good thing after all.