July 17, 2021

Parent Communication Techniques

 

Parent Communication



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All educators are tasked with communicating with parents at one point or another. Being in sync with your workflow and knowing the appropriate reasons for contacting parents helps the effectiveness of helping foster a child’s development.

Often, we only contact parents if there is some sort of behavior problem and only if it is necessary. However, studies show that conveying “good news” to parents is just as important. Consequently, teachers cannot rely on parents contacting them. The benefits of regular communication will pay off ten-fold when we, as educators, take the extra time to keep parents involved and informed.

Today’s post comes from the resources documented in Evan Feldman and Ari Contzius’ book, “Instrumental Music Education: Teaching with the Musical and Practical in Harmony.” I highly recommend this book to any and all music educators. 

Reasons for Contacting Parents

There are three main reasons for contacting parents: 1) to be positive, 2) to be preventative and 3) to be reactionary.

Feldman and Contzius's book, "Instrumental Education: Teaching with Musical and Practical in Harmony," states that educators should, “make parent contact positive and productive by approaching the conversation compassionately, professionally and logically.” Ultimately, we want our students to become more successful rather than placing blame. Sometimes this means that as music educators we need to word our communication with parents in a way that makes sense to any normal parent rather than talking to them like they are a degreed music professional.

Most importantly, whatever happens in the conversation be sure to stay calm, courteous and in control. If your emotions are running hot perhaps try outlining or scripting what you need to say. Then practice in front of a mirror maintaining this idea of staying calm, courteous and in control.

To help steer your script or communication in a way that assists you in staying calm, courteous and in control try some of these useful phrases that Feldman and Contzius have accumulated.

  • “I want what is best for your child”
  • “How may I help?”
  • “Is there anything I can do at school to help your child?"
  • “I have been frustrated by…”
  • “It is important that…”
  • “I am concerned with…”
  • “Suzi is not progressing”
  • “Billy would benefit from…”
  • “Carol needs to take more responsibility for...”




If a student disrupts the class, consider using the following phrases:

  • “Timmy needs to follow directions in class.”
  • “John initiates discussion around him when he should be listening to instructions.”
  • “She creates a class distractions by…”

Improvement
If the student shows improvement, consider using the following phrases:

  • “Tommy has shown consistent progress since the beginning of the marking period.”
  • “Sam has been showing more self-confidence.”

A+

If a student is doing exceptionally well, consider using the following phrases:

  • “Alexis is a pleasure to have in class.”
  • “Brian is excited to be in Band.”
  • “Blake has worked well in collaborative groups.”

attendance

If a student has attendance issues, consider the following phrase:

  • “Maria’s excessive absences are limiting her progress and that of her section and of the orchestra.”

In this type of scenario be sure to prepare any helpful records or specific examples of the issue at hand. Then use a systematic, well-organized phone outline for the call.

Scripting the Phone Call

Earlier we recommended to create a script for a parent phone call, especially if there is potential for emotions to fall into play from either side of the connection. The following is a sample script you can modify to have as a positive and/or constructive experience with a student’s parent. 

First state your name, position, and what school you are teaching at.
“Hello, this is Mr. Stevens, the band director at Mustang Middle School.”

Next, ask for the student’s parent by their last name. Note, some parents have different last names.
“May I please speak to either Mr. Martinez or Mrs. Cruz-Martinez?”

If someone other than the parents had initially answered the phone, be sure to reintroduce yourself once the parent picks up. Begin the conversation in a positive and non-controversial manner
“I am calling you to share a situation we are having with Jennifer in chorus class. I am confident there is something we can do together to get her on the right track.”
 
Present the situation occurring in the class and describe the specific behavior being demonstrated by the child.
“Howard has forgotten his trombone 5 times over the past two weeks.”

Clearly explain how this behavior hampers his progress in class.
“Every time Howard comes into band without his instrument, he is unable to participate. If this continues, he will fall further and further behind which will ultimately affect his grade and ability to be successful in band.

Clearly explain what behaviors are expected from all students in your class. Make it a point that you are not signaling out their child.
“Students are expected to bring their instruments to class each and every day.”

Next, wait and let the parent respond. This is particularly important even if you don’t agree with what the parent is saying. Only try to redirect the parent if they repeat and ramble on in an off-task manner. Again, be sure to redirect the parent in a polite way as to get the conversation moving in a constructive manner.
“I certainly appreciate your concerns, Mrs. Martinez, but for the purpose of this specific call, let’s stay on the issue regarding Howard’s instrument.”

Regarding main points, restate or paraphrase what the parent has said. This shows that you were listening and gives you an opportunity to confirm that your understanding of what was said is accurate.
“What I hear you saying is that Howard is having a hard time remembering to bring his instrument to school because he cannot find it when he is catching the bus in the morning?"

Brainstorm solutions: Start by offering a concrete solution suggestion to help improve the situation. Next, invite the parents to share their recommendations.
“A great idea that works for many students is to have Howard place his trombone at the front door before he goes to bed at night. This way he cannot forget where the trombone is before he catches the bus in the morning."

Support the parent by asking if there is anything that you can do to help their child in your class.

Provide the parents your contact information so that they may touch base with you if they have any other future questions.
“Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. My phone number is 1-777-123-4567.”

End the conversation in a respectful manner.
“Thank you for your time. Have a great evening.”

Meeting With Parents

Meeting Parents Face-To-Face

There will be scenarios where parents will want to have a face-to-face conference with you. Similar to phone calls, this needs to be implemented in a positive, respectful and non-threating atmosphere.

Feldman and Contzius recommend doing this in a way that is not behind a desk. Often this visual connotation implies a sense of confrontational situation. Rather, sit in a chair near the parent to visually communicate a collaborative vibe rather than one that is hostile.

Feldman and Contzius also recommend avoiding these negative communication tactics.

  • Accusing the parent
  • Placing blame
  • Lecturing the parent
  • Using the phase: “Your child” and “you"
  • Acting disrespectfully and losing composure
  • Becoming defensive
  • Inappropriately interrupting the parent

Remember if a parent feels that they are getting attacked they will tend to shut down. As a result, the following may occur:
  • The parent may not support your or help improve the situation
  • The parent may complain to other parents or your bosses
  • The parent may get offended and start to verbally attack you

If for some reason the parent starts to initiate any of these last situations, it is imperative that you diffuse and wrongdoing. Then redirect the parent’s attention so that they understand that you are there for the student’s best interests.

Ultimately, both parties are expected to respect on another. If control of a parent-teacher conference is not working out, then politely and firmly end the conversation. Request that if the parent would like to speak more, they will need to make an appointment with the principal. Once a scenario has reached this point it is in your best interest, as the educator, to fill-in the principal with all the specifics before the parent calls. As a result, the principal will have a better idea on how to support you, the child, and the parent.

email

Email Decorum

Since CoVid-19 and the active implementation of the virtual learning environment email has become one of the most used forms of communication with students and parents. It is important that when communicating with parents, over email, that every teacher's writing is professional and respectful.

Educational emails should maintain a sense of formality and include the following strategies according to Feldman and Contzius:

  • Always include a salutation or greeting at the beginning of an email.
  • Include a comma after the initial greeting.
  • Structure the email in descending order of formality.
  • If you are writing an email that goes back and forth between you and a colleague, it is okay to omit the greeting after the first email.
  • Always use a concise subject heading. These could include:
    • Subject: After School Rehearsal
    • Subject: Reminder’s About Field Trip
    • Subject: Rehearsal Schedule
  • Absolutely be sure to NOT USE the following:
    • Emoticons
    • All-Caps
    • Hard to read fonts
    • Short script (for example: R U & LOL)
    • Background patterns which make emails hard to read
  • Avoid using Reply-All
  • Proofread emails before your press “SEND”
  • Always remain courteous and polite
  • Keep school related topics relevant and avoid personal information
  • Do not “friend” or instant message students on your personal social networks.

 

Rules

Keep a Parent Communication Log

As an educator you should track every conversation regarding student behavior. By tracking progress it is easier to keep parents informed and keeps you, as the educator, accountable and protected to a limited degree.

By keeping a communication log, it makes it easier for administrators to understand what is going on in the face of an unhappy parent. In addition, this documentation can be used in a court of law in some situations where there may be attendance, or abuse-related circumstances.

My recommendation is to keep this parent contact log in either a binder, notebook or stored digitally. Google Forms is an easy-to-use software that I have used for my parent contact logs and because I have the app on my phone, I can handily pull it up almost anywhere I can access internet.

Possible items you may want to record in a parent contact log may include:

  • Student’s name
  • Year
  • Time in the day
  • Instrument
  • Interests
  • Activities
  • Parent/ guardian’s names
  • Parent/ guardian’s phone number/email
  • And a brief summary of what was discussed
Parent Communication log

Mass Parent Communication

Being able to communicate with large numbers of parents is important. This is easy to do however, do not be afraid of trying several communication tactics.
  • Mass communication through email. If you mass email parents be sure to clearly follow the previously mentioned email decorum. There are many school sponsored email systems that teachers are required to use. It is my recommendation to insert your teacher email address into the primary recipient location and all of the parent email addresses into the "Blind Carbon Copy" (BCC) location.
  • Mass communication through Phone Trees- Another fast way to get the word out is to use phone trees. The idea of this tactic to call the first parent, then he or she calls their assigned family to spread the word.
  • Mass communication through Websites and the school’s LMS – School websites and learning management systems are great ways to keep your parents informed. Websites allow for 24/7 access for parents to catch up on what is going on their child’s classes. In contrast, many Learning Management Systems have built in communication delivery functions such as those in  Schoology and Google Classroom.
  • Additional mass communication methods include the use of calendars, newsletters, robo calls, blogs, apps (like the remind app) and many more that are being invented at an exponential rate.

Final Thoughts

Reasons for contacting parents come in various forms. In Evan Feldman and Ari Contzius’ book, “Instrumental Music Education: Teaching with the Musical and Practical in Harmony.” It is clear that these authors understand the importance of strong communication and organizational skills. I hope that the recommendations outlined by Feldman and Contzius have provided a helpful insight into your organizational workflow in and out of the music education profession.

Source

Feldman, E., Contzius, A., Lutch, M., Bugaj, K., & Battisti, F. L. (2021). Instrumental music education: teaching with the musical and practical in harmony. Routledge. 

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