Better communication = better results

Despite the convenience of the digital age, there’s still nothing that beats a good, old fashioned, face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher.

By Katie Ingram

The student-teacher relationship isn’t the only factor that helps contribute to a good academic performance. Success in this area also relies on how well the parent and teacher are communicating.

“No matter how busy families are, they need to carve time to do relationship building,” says Jane Baskwill, a Mount Saint Vincent University Faculty of Education professor specializing in parent-teacher communication.

“Even if your child is doing well, you need to stay involved as each child, each teacher and each school year are different and things can come up.”

Anne LeBlanc, a Grade 4 teacher at Bel Ayr Elementary in Dartmouth, tries to reach out to all her parents in September.

“I try to get a note in with everyone’s homework or an email that starts with a positive (statement) about the child, so you set that relationship in the beginning,” she says. “It’s just such an important piece for the child’s success.”

This task doesn’t always fall to the educators though; parents can also be the ones to initiate the parent-teacher relationship. 

“It (initial contact) shows you’re interested; you can’t assume a teacher will know you’re interested if you don’t participate,” Baskwill says. “They are more likely to assume you aren’t interested.”

Baskwill suggests, if a in-person meeting isn’t possible, to write an email or letter.

“Just jot down a few things you want the teacher to know about your child, what they’ve been doing in the summer, their likes,” she says. “Just a few things that show, above and beyond, what your thoughts are about the teacher, the class and the school.”

Then, both parties can discuss how they would like to remain in touch and how often.

“Your main focus should be what can you do to make this relationship work and go from there,” Baskwill says. “It takes time, patience and involvement.”

Along with the more traditional curriculum nights and parent-teacher meetings, many teachers also use electronic communication methods.

LeBlanc finds that having a website has been useful. She usually tries to update it with such items as permission forms, monthly newsletters and homework assignments.

“If there’s some sort of confusion, the information is there,” she says. “It’s just a question of whether they, the parents, have the chance to check the web page. I know there are some that check it regularly.”

She also makes sure to touch base with parents on a regular basis.

“I can’t always give a parent a call twice a day, but I can give them a quick email at the end of the day and a phone call once a week,” LeBlanc says.

Still, there are those who prefer written reports, paper notices, and communication books, in which parents and teachers write notes to each other. Others prefer social media and PowerSchool, a system which keeps track of such information as attendance, behaviour, achievement and student schedules.

PowerSchool isn’t used much at the elementary level, but LeBlanc has been dabbling in the possibility of using social media.

“I’ve sort of been trying to see if I want to do things with Twitter… for parents to see what’s going on,” she says. “I also send out mass emails to everyone who said it’s okay.”

Baskwill says it’s essential to establish a communication method early in the school year and not just go with whatever is popular or new.

“If you don’t have access to a computer or reading a newsletter online isn’t your thing, ask for a copy of it,” she says. “Once that’s set up, it becomes fairly routine to maintain it over the year.”

When it comes to potential problems, both Baskwill and LeBlanc say a face-to-face meeting should be set up. Parents shouldn’t try to talk to teachers via email, text or use any written or electronic technique in this situation.

“Nothing should get in the way of face-to-face; it’s a form of communication that allows you to do more than read,” Baskwill says. “Sometimes one side or the other isn’t clear in what they write and it might lead to miscommunication.”

Despite her use of technology, LeBlanc still finds in-person meetings useful.

“I think that most of the time, I would certainly prefer to meet with my parents face-to-face,” she says. “(It’s good for) when you’re trying to plan things out or things are happening in the classroom and you’re trying to figure to what’s going on. I prefer it.”

If a parent can’t meet at the school or in a public setting, there are other ways the two parties can see each other and have a meaningful chat.

Facetime and Skype are two such tools.

“You can still see the other person,” Baskwill says. “Is it ideal? No, but it’s still a way to see someone; even a phone conversation is good because you’re still hearing the person.”

But, no matter what method or methods parents and teachers choose, it must be one both parties are comfortable with, and something that can help a child succeed.

“We need to understand we are partners in education for kids,” LeBlanc says.  

Communication Tips

Children don’t always have the best relationships with teachers, which can often come back to parents as a teacher treating the child unfairly. 

Before putting blame on a teacher for these problems, parents and teachers need to talk. The following are a few things to keep in mind when setting up that conversation:

• Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher questions if something
is unclear.

• Make sure you’ve read everything sent home or posted online.

• Carefully outline both your and your child’s concerns.

• Don’t assume that by reaching out this will cause issues in the classroom for your child. Teachers are there to help.

• Get information from both sides, both child and teacher, to better understand the issue at hand.

• Make sure the actual meeting happens in person, whereas the initial set up and conversation can happen through email or by phone.