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It’s more important than ever to have clear lines of communication between educators and families—here are some tips to establish a dialog

4 tips for teacher-family communication this school year

It’s more important than ever to have clear lines of communication between educators and families—here are some tips to establish a dialog

It’s been proven that parent engagement in their child’s education creates positive academic and social-emotional effects. When COVID-19 prompted school closures across the world, diligent family involvement became critical to students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being.

At Galena Park Independent School District (ISD) near Houston, we recognize the importance and value of consistent communication between home and school. To ensure that students and their families have the support they need, we encouraged proactive communication and provided guidance for teachers to stay connected when the pandemic struck in March 2020.

Related content: 5 ways COVID-19 made me a better teacher

As the 2020-21 school year approaches, I’d like to offer the following tips to support communication between home and school.

1. Evaluate needs

To create a sustainable communication plan, you’ll need to collaborate with your district community to identify what families need and how you can offer support. School culture should guide how and when you correspond with families, and your communication strategy needs to reflect this.

Family obligations, work schedules, and language diversity are just a few factors that impact communication between school districts and families. By identifying these factors early, you’ll be better prepared to create a communication plan that works for everyone.

2. Set a standard

After identifying what students and their families need, you can set a standard for how often teachers should communicate, what tool(s) they should use, and how your school or district can track communication and engagement.

Our district uses SchoolStatus, a data analytics and communication solution, to conduct and track student/parent-teacher communication via text messages, phone calls and email. When our district moved to online learning in response to COVID-19, we encouraged teachers to contact parents and/or secondary-grade students at least twice per week.

Reliable internet access is essential to students’ success, yet the coronavirus has only widened the existing digital divide. Once we moved learning online, we worked to distribute Chromebooks to families in need, and immediately began printing out resources and classroom materials that families could safely pick up from school. By taking this action immediately, we were able to identify if there were any uncontactable families and work on getting in contact.

After our educators began reaching out two or more times per week, parent-teacher engagement spiked, with 100,000 text messages being exchanged within the first three weeks of our shift to online learning. We also experienced demand for more printed materials – even from families with devices.

By setting a district-wide standard and sticking with it, you’ll be more in-tune with what families need and how you can refine your distance learning plan.

3. Be proactive

Consider this guidance from the National Education Association:

“Whether it’s because of a behavioral issue or academic challenge, looking to parents for partnership and council is crucial in solving problems in your classroom. Sometimes the parent will agree with your plan of action, sometimes they won’t, but being proactive will increase the chance of working together to find a solution.”

Be proactive by identifying individual students’ needs early and conducting consistent outreach to families. If you recognize a challenge that a student is encountering, use data to inform a structured conversation with parents. Did a student accomplish something exciting or meet a milestone? Reach out to their parents and talk about it.

An article from ThoughtCo explains, “An effective teacher will likely use several [communication] means over the course of the year. Good teachers communicate frequently. If a parent hears it from you, there is a lesser chance of something getting misinterpreted in the process.”

For Galena Park ISD, gaining the ability to text students, parents, and guardians has had an immensely positive impact. Data in SchoolStatus showed that overall usage of the platform increased after we began texting, and that more families were receiving messages. For context, between August 2019 and February 2020, 699,560 communications were exchanged between teachers, parents, and students – an average of 3,299 communication events per day.

But, between March through May 2020, 3,457,644 communications were exchanged – a whopping 37,583 communication events per day. This improvement is all thanks to our proactive approach to communication, which has only helped us in ensuring positivity, building relationships, and delivering on objectives.

Parents who were still working requested that we contact secondary students directly through SchoolStatus, which helped us to increase contact overall. Being able to reach out to our students and understand their progress, especially for those without internet, is a huge benefit. Students can text pictures of their work to receive credit, or ask teachers questions.

For the 2020-21 school year, we’ve asked all parents to give us the number they want us to use when contacting students about class assignments and work. Parents know it is safe because all contacts are documented and transcribed. It protects both our students and our teachers.

4. Remain empathetic

There is no one-size-fits-all plan for successfully communicating with students’ families. Remember the unique needs of each family and remain empathetic in your approach.

We’ve all experienced many changes this year. Be empathetic to what those around you are going through and use communication to support one another. Invest in tools that make it easier for teachers to conduct communication and identify creative ways to connect with families.

In a time where communication is more important than ever, Galena Park ISD is connecting with families, building relationships and most importantly, supporting our community. I urge you to recognize the value and importance of communication and employ these tips as you prepare for the rapidly approaching school year.

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