By Jose Loera.

Effective communication is the key to making any relationship successful, and this is especially true in the classroom. In 2012, Harvard Graduate School of Education conducted a study to see just how strong the effect of frequent teacher-family communication is on student engagement. On average, it increased the chances of students finishing their homework by 40%, decreased the number of times teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%.

Based on my experience, here are four tips to help foster a positive and rewarding parent-teacher relationship.

1. Change the way you engage families.

As the Southwest Outreach and Engagement Manager at STRIVE Prep in Denver, I’m one of four individuals responsible for implementing the family-engagement strategy across our network. We have about 3,500 students, and my role is to ensure that every student’s family feels they have a voice.

To connect parents and teachers, we used to send paper fliers (which were often lost in backpacks) to schedule parent-teacher conferences so that parents could get to know their child’s educator. Today, the methods in which we engage with families has changed substantially.

To make this change happen, we have a family engagement program that meets three times a year where we meet with families to discuss strategies on how to support their student (s). These are done both in large group and individually to provide parent support. Through these meetings, those parents receive a weekly text on information pertaining to their child. In addition to these meetings, we have ongoing meetings to provide parent leadership training and connect with families when concerns arise.

2. Work to bridge the language gap.

Each year, U.S. public schools add up to 100,000 new ELL students, so teachers need to know how to effectively communicate with these students and their parents. We send notifications from our school communication system, but the system has a one size fit all approach and doesn’t personalize to each families linguistic needs.

About this time last year, we started looking for a resource that would help our schools better connect with parents. We chose a parent-teacher communication app called Bloomz. Since then, we have seen more communication in many ways. For example, families who do not speak English as a first language can change their settings to receive information in their preferred language.

The principal of any school can also send out notifications, such as a school-wide event or a school closure, and families can stay organized and up-to-speed on their child’s education each day in the language of their choice. This app also allows for the school calendar to be within fingers reach so that families can easily see events for the coming months and plan accordingly. This allows parents to stay easily informed and connect with school administration since information can be translated to their preferred language through the app.

3. Create one place for two-way communication.

One important aspect of our new approach is how simple it is. There are fewer phone calls from stressed parents asking to reschedule a meeting. Instead, parents can message the teacher and reschedule a meeting through the app. In that same place, our teachers can post on to their specific class newsfeeds a spreadsheet for parents to choose which meeting times work best for them to set up conferences or links to a website that help students with their homework. In addition, through the class and school newsfeed parents can see what their child is up to when teachers post pictures from class field trips or special events at school. We’ve had parents mention how happy they are to see these photos and know that their child is having fun while learning at school.

Communication is a two-way street. Our goal is always to create a problem-solving partnership, with parents and teachers. With a clear and ongoing stream of communication, we can avoid the pitfall of only talking to the teacher or parent when something has gone wrong.

4. Maintain regular face-to-face time.

We ensure families in our network have a voice by not only communicating with them through our new systems but also by inviting them to additional meetings. Families have opportunities every other month to attend coffee with the principal, monthly family council meetings/PTA and yearly town hall meetings with our leadership. This provides multiple avenues for parents to listen about school updates and to provide feedback directly to our leadership.

We also encourage parents, teachers, and educators to keep the face-to-face interaction present. Having one centralized place for online communication has been an enormous help, but it shouldn’t replace in-person interaction.

A positive parent-teacher relationship starts with strong communication, and I believe that following these steps can help any district bridge the cultural barrier between families and parents.

Jose Loera is the Southwest Community Outreach and Engagement Manager at STRIVE Prep in Denver, Colorado.

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