At the beginning of every school year, I send home a form to parents. This is in addition to any form they fill out for the school. It allows them to tell me their prefered contact method (call, text, or email). Since implementing this in my classroom, it’s been life changing. Here’s why:
1) Letting parents know that you’re willing to communicate with them on their terms makes them more willing to communicate.
When you ask parents for their prefered method of communication (and then you use that method whenever possible), you’re saying that their time and preferences matter. And they do! Parents are used to schools doing everything on their terms, from parent contact to parent teacher conferences. Parents are expected to take off from work and be there on our time. This small step says that they matter, too.
You also have to consider their work environment. I know at my school, you aren’t allowed to make any personal calls during the school day. This seems like a reasonable expectation to me and to most teachers, but I find that we often assume that parents don’t have similar reasonable expectations at their workplaces. A text message is easy for a parent to read quickly and then determine whether they will take a break to address the situation. Or, if all it requires is a quick text response, they might even send that back immediately without risking their job security. Obviously, parents who feel you’re putting them in a tough position with their boss are not going to be as open to communicating with you.
2) Communicating with parents on their terms means better, more reliable communication.
First, many parents are far more likely to answer a text message than a phone call during the day. If you’ve got a behavior problem that needs to be addressed ASAP, communicating with the parent in a way that maximizes the probability of a response is crucial. Also, when a parent is annoyed with you before they even answer the phone, you’re more likely to have a more positive interaction. See above. You’ve already started out the conversation by saying “you matter”.
3) If you have a smart phone (but also, even if you don’t), it’s easier than ever to communicate with parents using your phone, without giving up your privacy.
Google Voice can create a number (for me, this is important, as my cell number is actually long distance where I work), and then you can give this number out to parents instead of your own. Then, download the google voice app onto your phone. Now you can place all calls through the app (or from your computer, if you don’t have a smart phone). When parents answer the phone, they see your google voice number. When they call you, they dial your google voice number. Nobody even needs to know your personal cell phone number. You can text and call this way, easily.
Moreover, if you’re concerned about parents calling and texting outside of school hours, you can also turn on the “do not disturb” setting on the app. This forwards all calls and texts to your email instead. Lastly, I like to put a parent’s prefered method of communication under the “company” section of their contact. That way I can remember whether they prefer a text or a call. And on the off chance that a parent really does abuse this method of communication, I can block them and/or change the phone number without having to change the phone number that my friends and family all use.
4) It’s so much easier to text a parent during the school day than call them, if the situation allows.
On those days when there’s an early release from school, there are always those kids whose parents (or who think their parents) don’t know about the early release. How are they getting home? And I send them to the school phone to call home and find out. Meanwhile, my parents who are texters, I can send a quick text to instead. Or, if it’s something I really need to have a phone call about, I can text them to ask them to call me when they’re available (especially when I know they’re at work). Many parents can step out for a few minutes to make a quick phone call, while receiving a personal call at their desk would be frowned upon.
5) The better you communicate with parents, the better they will communicate with you.
I had a student last year who, about once a month, the mom would text me as she dropped her son off. She was in a rush to get to work and couldn’t come by the room, but asked me to call her if I had time. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. Honestly, I prefered this to her dropping by the room and assuming she could have my full attention. When I did call her back immediately, she would tell me that her son was in a bad mood and he just needed some time to cool down. How much better to be informed of this than to find out when he blew up at another student who was standing too close to him. Perfect! I would let him do his morning work in my office right off the classroom, and then when he cooled down, he was ready to have a productive day.
Parents are experts on their kids, and the more information they give us, the more we can be experts on their child, as well. Even though it can be cumbersome at times, we really do need parents to communicate with us.