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22-year school comms professional
Former assistant professor
K-12 PR, marketing and branding agency owner
Crazy about design, efficiency and helping others
Ahh…parents. Whether you are one or not, you probably grew up with them. As a teacher, administrator or school communicator, half (dare I say more) of your job is working with these stakeholders.
As I’m sure you know, there are many categories of parents. Shows have been premised on this. The infamous parents in Dance Moms and Matilda are prime examples of caretakers who fail to understand or contest what their child’s teacher is communicating. In reality, these two cases of parents are rare, but they certainly highlight the struggle that comes with school-to-parent communications.
At the end of the day, what you should expect as a school is that most parents are trusting you with the thing they love most in this world. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, parents fear all too well the worst-case reality that their child might not return home. How they handle this can vary, but what shouldn’t is your responsibility to communicate that their child is in good hands.
Alternatively, there are times where a student’s education and even well-being are not their guardian’s priority. Preparing for this situation is part of communicating as well.
The relationship you and your school have with parents is like every other relationship; it is based on communication. These days it happens in many different ways. Moreover, each person’s ability to comprehend the same message and their preferred way of getting that message are not all the same. Therefore, pleasing every party on the receiving end is difficult. Add on top of that, the variety of parents and the lack of time educators have to individualize each message, means that different parents may receive different messages – or, none at all.
Prepping for Parent Communications
Put yourself in their shoes as a parent. They have a personal life as well, so you have no idea what might be happening in it that affects how they involve themselves in their child’s school life. Additionally, people tend to revert to anger and frustration when they are fearful. Know that an unpleasant parent is probably just worried about their child.
Empathizing, expressing understanding or relating to a parent or parents while communicating may ease their feelings and elicit a more understanding response from them.
The Parsimonious Parent
In some cases, the above advice can only get you so far. As someone whose mother teaches at an alternative school, I am familiar with situations she has dealt with in which caretakers neglect their child’s care. Though this is unimaginable to many parents, it is, unfortunately, true for many students. Sometimes these are the children who, due to their troubled home lives, act out at school calling for even more communication with parents.
Though it may be hard, empathizing and showing you are listening to the parent still improves understanding. If not, it is important that you recognize your number one priority at the end of the day is the student and not educating the parent.
One Size Does Not Fit All Parents
The Center for American Progress reports that there is a discrepancy between how parents believe their child is doing in school and how they actually are. Since 2016, there has been a heavy focus on individualizing parent messaging and going more in-depth on student report cards to narrow this discrepancy. According to CAP, meeting parents’ needs and fostering more parent engagement benefits students as well.
Based on a 2020 study from CAP on school-to-parent communications, the following were major conclusions:
Making Communication Easy
Ultimately, it is important to remember that parents are not all the same and in order to benefit students the most, it is important to try and meet parents’ needs as well.
School Comms Lab members have access to newsletter and other communications templates to help teachers and schools easily and quickly disseminate information to families – just choose a template, update it regularly and send it out.
At the School Comms Lab, we're dedicated to helping you communicate effectively, easily and creatively with your school's key audiences.
In a nutshell, we're here to help make your job a bit easier--and more fun.