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5 ways to enrich communication at the start of the school year-and why it’s essential

An elementary teacher shares her best practices for getting off on the right foot with both parents and students.

Good communication is essential in any relationship, whether it is employer to employee, spouse to spouse, or teacher to student (or student’s parents). In my time as an educator, I’ve seen what a difference good communication can make. When communication channels are open between parents, students, and teachers, students have increased motivation for learning, improved behavior, more regular attendance, and a more positive attitude about school.

Back to school is a great time to build up these communication channels, since so much needs to be discussed at this time of year. At our school, we collect health information, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and transportation information.

As a teacher, you also need to help students transition smoothly into a new class schedule, routines, and teacher expectations. Here are some great ways to ensure that your communication—with both parents and students—gets off to the right start:

1. Take advantage of in-person events when possible.

At Long Elementary, we have a Meet the Teacher night prior to school starting. I take great pride in building relationships with my students and their parents. This benefits both the students and parents by providing an avenue of constant support for their children. Parents also become more confident about the value of their school involvement, and they develop a greater appreciation for the work the school does.

2. Be clear about classroom expectations from the start.

I use the first week of school to establish routines and model expectations for my students. I am very specific and concise with directions, so they know exactly what is expected of them. I have our classroom expectations posted in the classroom where they can be seen by all students, and we devote time on the first day of school to reading and discussing them. We also brainstorm as a class and see if there is anything else students think we need to add to the list of general classroom rules. When students have a part in creating classroom policy, it gives them ownership of their behavior and more motivation to follow the rules, since they helped to write them.

I am also in constant communication with parents from Day 1. I use a parent-teacher communication app, Bloomz, to make daily contact with parents by sending frequent reminders of daily homework, attendance, and behavior. This is one of the routines and expectations that I establish during the first few weeks of school. Students see that their parents and I are a team, that we will be in constant communication, and that we will support the classroom expectations. I always keep the correspondence positive and focused on a growth mindset.

(Next page: Communication tips 3-5)

3. Bond with students, and help them bond with each other.

At the beginning of each new school year, I do a sit-down conference with each student to learn more about them. I give them an interest and multiple intelligence survey, and we talk about the things they like and how they learn best. This enables me to meet their individual needs throughout the year and make a prescriptive learning plan. We develop lifelong relationships because we bond right off the bat and they know that I truly care.

I also tend to do a lot of icebreakers at the beginning of the year, as well as using music and movement to help students loosen up and have fun in the classroom. I think that our time talking about expectations also bonds us in a more serious way, since it creates a community where students are encouraged to hold each other accountable to the expectations we’ve all agreed on.

4. Get parents involved in the fun.

I recently did a treasure hunt competition with the help of parents. The first 10 students to submit pictures of the three types of angles found at home or in public would receive free homework passes. It was a race to the finish, and since I required the pictures to be submitted through the Bloomz app, it required parents to engage with their children’s learning at home. I also did a similar assignment where students had to find and post pictures of the different types of precipitation. The kids loved these, and so did the parents. Some even posted videos.

I used to have difficulty getting all homework completed by all students. My diligent communication with parents has resolved this problem, because the parents always get the homework post before the kids even get home for the day. There have been a couple of instances where kids have tried to forget their homework at school, but the parents drove them right back to retrieve it.

5. Come up with a strategy for communicating with ELL families.

Non-English-speaking families can feel disconnected to the classroom because they are not able to access information like native English speakers can. As teachers, it’s important that we take steps to reach out to these parents early in the year and help them feel welcome in our classrooms and schools. This is where using Google Translate or a parent-teacher communication app with a translation feature can help tremendously. After all, parents are more apt to engage in the school community when they understand what is going on in the classroom.

During our Meet the Teacher night, I make sure I have all required forms printed in both English and Spanish. After introductions, we create their Bloomz account and I walk them through the steps. I show them the translation setting and help those that need it set it to their native language. This way, they are able to connect to the classroom without having to worry about a language barrier.

The best part of each new school year is connecting with my new students and their families, finding our common interests, and building on them to create lifelong friendships. Together we can show our kiddos that we are a team with a common goal; creating a solid foundation for students to have a successful learning experience all year long.

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