How to communicate with parents to improve learning outcomes for your student
If you have a student in your class who you are finding it difficult to connect with, who is showing difficulties with their learning, or is struggling to complete their class work, then read on.
In my role in the classroom as a child development therapist I often observe a disconnect between the teacher and the student, and the teacher and the parent. This disconnect often stems from poor communication between the teacher and student, or the teacher and the parent.
When I work with parents and teachers, I sit back and observe their interaction without judgment. What I am looking for it what communication strategies are currently in place to build their relationship, and what barriers are currently happening to cause this disconnect.
The common themes that I observe are:
Fear of feeling judged as a teacher or parent
Fear of failure as a teacher or parent
Worried they might offend the teacher or parent
Feeling overwhelmed with the learning needs of the child
What I notice is that the teacher and the parent are feeling similar emotions of overwhelm, confusion, and fear, and they are struggling to meet in the middle with their needs.
So the following strategies aim to bridge the gap between teachers and parents, in the best interests of the child.
1. Put your shoe on the other foot
Now I don't mean literally put your shoe on the other foot. What I mean is, consider the perspective of the other person. If you're the teacher who is having difficulty connecting with your student, imagine what it feels like as a parent to be picking up your own child worrying what negative things have happened today, or what negative things you are going to say.
If you're the parent, think about how the teacher might be feeling as they're nervous to talk to you about their day.
By thinking about the perspective of the other person, we can show more empathy and understanding, with less judgment and angst.
2. Cut out emotion
Often in meetings where parents and teachers sit across from each other, I see two frustrated and overwhelmed people, sharing the same level of concern for the child, but unsure of what to do.
In these meetings there are emotions of fear, stress, worry, overwhelm, anxiety. Yet to move forward and come up with an action plan that will help the child, we need to acknowledge these emotions, but then set the emotions aside just for a minute. Because if we're feeling emotional, we struggle to think logically.
3. Improve communication between all parties
In parent/teacher meetings I often hear parents say 'why was I not told beforehand', 'why am I only hearing about this now?'
As a mum, I feel this frustration. But from a teacher's perspective I understand that it can be nerve wracking to approach a parent and point out challenges for their child.
So what I suggest is starting a communication book where the teacher can write about the child's day, and parent's can write questions for the teacher about their child's learning. These conversations can happen in writing where each adult is given the time to collect their thoughts and control their emotions. It is easier to do this in writing, than during a heated conversation.
4. Don't just share the negatives
When we're feeling overwhelmed and stressed we often go straight for the negatives. I behave in exactly the same way.
But it's important to stop and share 1 positive, 1 negative, then 1 positive when talking about a child's day or their learning challenges. The positives help us feel optimistic and proud. The negatives need to be addressed to help the child move forward. But the positives need to be coupled with the negative to give us optimism, hope, and connection.
So for example, Johnny loves interacting with his friends in the playground. However, he finds it difficult asking friends to play and instead throws sand or breaks their car track. Tomorrow we are going to model to Johnny how to ask a friend to play and show him how to make a sand castle.
This comes across as optimistic and action plan based. Rather than, today Johnny threw sand on his friend again.
5. Words are powerful
Before writing, speaking, or sending that email, imagine what it would be like to read it on the other end of the line.
As much as parents need to be kept informed about their child's learning and behaviour, we need to be mindful what it would feel like to read a negative email or note about our child's challenges.
Words have power. We can use this power in a positive way to build connection, optimism, and proactive action plans. Or we can use words or lack of words to create disconnect, hostility, and angst.
We all know that parents and teachers are sharing the same goal of doing what is best for the child. So let's move forward with positive and proactive communication, rather than avoiding difficult conversations.
Want to learn more? Join our Empowering Educator and Parent courses where we talk more about how to have difficult conversations.