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Teacher Communication: One Educator’s Journey

Note: Author Katie Bass is a second-grade classroom teacher, who also serves as PES’s Responsive Classroom Lead TeacherShe taught grade four for her first four years at PES.

In looking back at my five years here at Pittsfield Elementary, I can easily say that I have come a long way in my communication with parents.

In my first year of teaching fourth grade, my stomach would drop whenever I returned to my classroom to see the red light illuminated on my phone telling me that I had a voicemail. I remember being nothing short of fearful of parents then. I knew I was young and had less experience than most of my colleagues, and I was nervous that someone would call me out on it. I sought counsel from my peers and superiors often, even though I was doing the best I could for my students. While I had no negative interactions with parents, I certainly did not feel that this was a strong area in my teaching.

After my first year here, I was fortunate enough to attend Responsive Classroom I training. There, I was able to spend a full day with other teacher reflecting on the importance of parent input as well as learning strategies I could use immediately to improve this aspect of my teacher role. From that day forward, I was fully committed to improving my communications with families.

Since that point, I have gradually implemented a variety of ideas to help improve my communication with families. Some of them include:

  • Asking families for their preferred day, time, and method to be contacted
  • Inviting families to share their Hopes and Dreams for their child for the school year
  • Calling families during the first weeks of school to introduce myself and establish a positive connection from the start
  • Asking families to let me know if their children are happy, and even more so, to let me know if they are unhappy
  • Making regular contact with families to give both whole class and individual student updates • Making contact with families mid-year to check in informally
  • Sharing families’ Hopes and Dreams that they created in September with them again in June, asking them to reflect on how their child has grown

I am sure you are familiar with the phrase “A little goes a long way.” Without a doubt, spending a “little” additional time in the start of the school year to foster connections with families has gone a long way in helping build strong relationships. I have the benefit of having done this for a few years, and it has always proven true. I now feel much more confident in my work with families, and I hope that parents of my students would agree that we are a team, working together toward a common goal of helping children have a positive second grade experience.

Earlier in my career, I talked a lot when I met with parents. Over the years, I have changed my talk to- listen ratio so that I am now hearing a lot more from families. With few exceptions, teachers who know their students well rarely know them for more than 10 months. Parents are with their children going through beginning of- year jitters, vacation excitement, teacher adjustment, and developmental changes every school year as well as the times when school is not in session. Parents, not teachers, are the experts on their children. When I make my first contact to families, it is extremely important for me to listen. I have learned so much simply by doing that and by allowing the time for families to share with me. Even a simple question such as “Is there anything else you think I would benefit from knowing?” on a survey or “How is everything going?” on the phone can provide answers to questions that we teachers may never have asked.

Although I am not yet a parent myself, I can appreciate how busy families are. I am often overwhelmed by my stress of taking care of just a house and family, and we only have two pets! I know that families are working hard and doing their best to provide all they can for their children. Between varying schedules, lifestyles, and resources, communication between teachers and families can be challenging at times. It is important, however, to remember we are all working toward the same common goal: for each and every child to have a positive learning experience and to feel a sense of belonging so that each and every child grows into an engaged, knowledgeable citizen to lead the next generation.

I am not the only teacher at PES working on this practice. This year at PES, “Communicating with Families” is one of the “Essential Eight” components of teaching and a school-wide focus. Some of us have set personal goals related to this practice. All grade levels and teams are reflecting on what and how they communicate to families, and leaders from each team are working with Mr. Kilmister to share and continue this improvement. We welcome any feedback or input from families to help foster further growth in making both our community and school strong together.