An optimum parent-teacher communication is built on trust, acceptance and communication. Thus it is important for both parties involved to establish a positive communication system. There are two ways of communicating with parents: informal and formal. Informal communication are various strategies that parents and teachers may use to convey messages, ideas or brief conversations with each other. Formal communication is more like the let us set a time to talk more in depth about this issue. Communication between the parent and the teacher is vital because it informs the parents about what is going on in the class and the teachers about what is going on at home, and also to exchange information about the most important person-“the child”.
It is hard for a teacher of twenty active preschoolers and a working parent to carry on an in depth conversation about the progress of the child. Hence many parents and teachers rely on informal methods to exchange information and queries. Informal communication can be done through the following ways.
1. Daily exchange: This does not have to be elaborate, something small like, “Good morning -------(name of the parent), how are you today?”, followed by “How is ---(maybe their spouse, and other children), will help make the parents feel welcome in the school. Recent research has indicated that the average conversation time at transition times between parents and day care workers was about 12 seconds!!(Endsley & Minish, 1991 as reported in Doherty-Derkowski, 1995). It is these small exchanges that help build a strong parent-teacher relationship.
Some teachers feel that they do not have adequate staff help at the transition times to carry on this conversation with the parent. Maybe creating a routine at the beginning of the day, where children do some quite journal work while all the children trickle in will free up some time for the teacher to interact with the parent. Also having all the materials setup for the day ahead of time will give the teacher some time to do the interaction rather than getting the activities ready when the children are arriving. Also at the end of the day teachers can have the children all ready to leave so it will give them some time to interact with the parents.
Some new teachers feel like they don’t have anything to say to the parents. Things like, ‘Johnny enjoyed feeding the class pet today”, or “Joan can you tell your parent about what you did in the art center today?” will help build a rapport with the parent. When carrying on informal conversations with parents be careful not to discuss confidential issues or sensitive issues, also don’t talk about the child with the child within hearing distance.
Phone Calls: This is a relatively easy method for communicating with parents. Teachers who cannot interact with the parents during the school day often resort to phone calls to keep in touch with the parents. Phone calls to inquire about a child who did not come to school, a follow-up conversation, share personal observation/assessment of a child are some of the reasons to call the parents. Some teachers have started to maintain “Phone Office Hours”, maybe during a lull time of the day, or one hour during the evening to give opportunities for parents who cannot talk to the teacher during their visits to the school. The setting up of various avenues for parents to reach the teacher shows that the teacher actually cares about the well being of the child and is willing to communicate with the parents.
Personal Notes and Parent Bulletin Boards: Several centers have a Parent bulletin board which they use a method for conveying information about the current events in the center, request for help, announcements etc. Some teachers also use personal notes to the parents to inform them about particular progress made by their child, or thank them for their help, contribution. If you would like the parent to respond to your note, the message in the note has to be open ended (e.g., “Johnny has started writing his name, have you noticed him doing that at home?”). Such a note will result in the parent either talking to the teacher the next day or writing a note back to the teacher. Refrain from using premade notes (e.g. __________ has a swell day at school!”). To me this note does not say anything other than the fact the child had a great time at school. The note needs to be more elaborate, maybe highlight what made the day great for the child. Some teachers use a notes folder or journal to exchange messages to and from home.
A parent bulletin board is a time saving method of conveying information uniformly to all the parents of the center. The bulletin board needs to be in a prominent place outside of the classroom (maybe in the hallway outside the classroom or in the entry foyer). The bulletin board must be eyecatching and clearly indicate that it is for the parents. The theme of the bulletin board needs to coincide with what is going on in the classroom for the most part. Some teachers post their weekly newsletter in the bulletin board. The information in the bulletin board must be short and not too wordy. Information that is too wordy may be placed in a pouch in the bulletin board as handouts for parents to take them for reading at a later time. The information that is placed on the bulletin board maybe a culmination of some the parents’ concerns, ways to address them, and also a list of resources. The parent bulletin board has to have a different color background and border compared to those in the classroom. Teachers can also use this board to describe the theme the class is working on, request for help, acknowledge the participation of parent volunteers, inform parents about guests, field trips, or special activities the class maybe having for the week. Some schools also display the menu the children are having for the week to help parents not to duplicate the same dish for dinner. If the school is having problems with late pick up or excessive parent socializing the teachers could use the bulletin board to generally address the issue before taking it to the next step.
Sometimes teachers also use part of the bulletin board to educate the parents about a particular topic (i.e., reading readiness, kindergarten readiness, bilingualism etc.). The teacher who wants to use the bulletin board effectively also needs to change it frequently. One can also use the bulletin board as a venue for exchange of information or services (e.g. carpool offers, babysitting services, toy/books/videos exchange etc.). Do remember the main purpose of a bulletin board is to provide appropriate supporting information to the parents. So, the board should be set up in such a way to provide the information in a short succinct manner without too much clutter or distractions.
Other than the bulletin board the newsletters also serve as a method of communicating with the parents. The newsletters have to be short and to the point. The purpose of the newsletter is two fold:
- Inform parents about the activities going on in the classroom so that they can reinforce what is taught in class.
- Inform parents about the educational objectives behind the activities.