Continuous and ongoing communication between parents, caregivers and teachers lays the foundation for a collaborative relationship. It is key to creating the kind of connection that leads to broader-scale mobilization and involvement in safe and inclusive school planning.
At the secondary level, where parents and caregivers are often less present and involved, systematic communication can provide a means of maintaining the connection. This may be the best way to ensure that there is still some connection between home and school, a way for parents and caregivers to respect the developmental needs and choices of teens to be autonomous, without entirely letting go.
Through regular communication, schools can increase the profile of issues related to equity, inclusion and bullying prevention, augmenting their importance in parents’ and caregivers’ eyes. Informing parents and caregivers about these issues is an important first step.
Schools can send information that is specific to their context in order to pique parents’ and caregivers’ interest. They can describe the issue through the lens of their particular school, perhaps sharing the results of a school survey, presenting the problem and its impact on all students. Discussions about solutions can follow, providing an opportunity to engage parents and caregivers in a staged and consultative process. (See Mobilizing Your School and Building Community.) When the wording of invitations, letters and other communication are inclusive, for example by avoiding heteronormative, sexist or ethnocentric language, then our messages are coherent with are goals and values.
Schools can also provide ongoing communication, feedback and input about students’ social and emotional experience and progress at school, including the development of social skills needed to function as a positive school community member. Skills such as responsibility, respect and cooperation, can be discussed and are increasingly included and assessed in report cards. Such communication can shift the emphasis from a purely academic focus, conveying the message that the school atmosphere and community matters.
Taking the time to communicate with a parent or caregiver after an incident provides an opportunity to engage them, since this directly concerns their child. Many types of incidents and interactions among students can reveal something about students’ social skills, values and attitudes, even when they are not explicit forms of bullying. At both the elementary and secondary levels, teachers will have opportunities in and outside of the classroom to observe interactions and dynamics among students.
Parents and caregivers can benefit from knowing what happened and how their child felt and reacted. Sharing our approach, our intervention and our plan for follow-up of a difficult situation can help build skills. Parents and caregivers can learn about how we are responding and what is working, enabling them to reinforce our responses at home.
Technology is increasingly being used by some teachers to facilitate communication between home and school. However, technology can sometimes be a barrier for parents and caregivers who do not have access to computers. Working within the guidelines of your school’s communication policy, it is important to use diverse forms of communication, for example, offering both a paper and an online newsletter. We can inquire to find out what form of communication individual parents and caregivers prefer.
Ongoing communication sends a signal to parents and caregivers that we are open to their input and their presence. For parents and caregivers who may feel intimidated by contact with the school, positive and continuous communication can serve as a gentle reminder that we are there to support them.