Communication Essentials

When it comes to communicating with parents, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings.  Having said this, because the majority of our parents are unavailable during the day, a phone call is a really good second choice.

An important part of my job as an administrator is to build relationships and sometimes this means conveying bad news.  A relationship will not be solidified by refraining from telling bad news or by finding less direct ways to send the difficult news.  Sending an email to convey bad news is akin to breaking up with someone by texting them; it’s a no-no and a relationship breaker.  I believe that parents actually appreciate an administrator’s efforts to relay any difficult news in a direct manner.

Every time I phone a parent, I preface the call with “this is not an emergency call” so that parents aren’t worried about the health and safety of their child.  When communicating a behaviour issue to home, I have the student in my office as well and I ask them to call their own parents to talk to them about the situation while I’m in the room.  This strategy has two important benefits:  one – having to talk out loud to your mom or dad about something you did somehow brings the message home much more strongly; two – it most likely will result in a continuation of the conversation when the student goes home.  Without a phone call home, there may never be a conversation at home or, worse, there may be a completely different version of the situation portrayed by the student.  By making the phone call in “public”, we all work with the same version of events.

Communicating about a difficult topic can become that much more difficult if an email or text is sent because there is no immediate dialogue.  Furthermore, tone is best conveyed face-to-face or by a phone call.  There is much less ambiguity when you can hear the person’s voice.  Also, you can clarify on the spot if there are any misconceptions, rather than letting misunderstandings linger.

Face-to-face conversations and phone calls are not the only way to communicate.  There is definitely a place for technology and the use of email / Twitter/ Facebook / Remind 101.  However, I believe these tools are meant for a different type of news.  They are useful for conveying a variety of information to parents, ranging from school events to happenings in the classroom.  I see these tools more for communicating global messages of what’s going on in the school.  Of course, there can be two-way communication using these methods as well when, for example, parents respond to a photo of their child doing something in his/her class.  However, when the need arises for difficult conversations, there is no substitute for meeting face-to-face or making a phone call.  Of course, the same can be said when you want to relay a positive message about a student.  Phoning home to say how well a certain student has done will go a long way in boosting the school-home relationship.

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