Tips for Communicating with Your Child’s School
A Note From The Teacher
by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
Communicating with School
Just as in other businesses, there are various ways to communicate with your child’s school. Written letters, phone calls, and of course, e-mail, are all popular methods of communication. But when to use each one? And who to get in touch with? Well, those answers depend on the culture of your school and the message you want to send.
Written notes are the traditional way that parents and schools communicate information (just note our column name!). Whether it is documenting the reason for an absence, or reporting on your child’s behavior in the classroom, written notes are often still sued to shuttle information between home and school.
Pros: Written notes are great ways to communicate factual information in a limited amount of time. As we all know, time is scarce, and many people do not have the time needed to make a phone call that could turn into a 20 minute conversation. Teachers may also use written notes in the form of daily reports, journals, or typed notes to inform you of your child’s academic progress, behavior, or other on-going issues. These can help you know exactly what your child is doing in school each day when you’re not there.
When you need to convey factual information regarding absences, medical information, or other basic information, the written note is still a very good way to get your message to your child’s school. Written notes also serve an important purpose in documenting information for a school, so written notes are unlikely to be completely replaced by e-mails or phone calls, even with the current technological advances we have.
Cons: As with every form of passing the information along, the written note is not perfect in all cases. In instances when you have questions which require a longer response, or if there is a particularly complicated issue to address, it may be better to make a phone call or even schedule a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher.
Likewise, the reliability of written communication depends in large part on the reliability of the carrier. Older students who may know that the note in their backpack may lead to trouble, later on, can “lose” notes on the bus, or in the car, long before they ever reach mom and dad’s hands. If using written communication on a regular basis, be sure that you have a regular schedule to expect notes and follow up when they don’t arrive as expected. Once your child knows they will be held accountable for bringing home the information you expect, they will likely become much more reliable postal workers between home and school.
Hint: Put written communications on a standard-sized sheet of paper with clear writing. Small notes, such as sticky notes or notepad papers, are easily lost in backpacks or on desks, and illegible writing can make getting the information you need more difficult for everyone involved.
Many teachers provide parents their mobile phone to call or text. Other continue to use the school voice mail system allow callers to leave While this convenience can be handy to use to get in touch with teachers, it is not the same as reliably getting to speak with someone on the phone.
Pros: Phones can allow your teacher to have direct contact with you, allowing you to ask more questions and get more in-depth answers to questions you may have. Text message work well for short c=direct communications. As we are all a mobile-minded society, phones have largely taken over as the main means by which most people communicate. Many people feel better when they are able to speak to a person instead of answering a written question on paper or in an e-mail, or text.
Also, the phone system may allow your child’s teacher to call you during the day. By having multiple contact numbers available, such as home and work, the likelihood of your child’ teacher being able to speak with you can improve. With the advent of caller id and other technologies, many teachers are hesitant to pass along their home phone information by calling from their personal phone; having an accessible work phone to use can increase the chances that your child’s teacher can make their calls throughout the day.
Cons: As with home answering machines, voice mail in commercial buildings, like schools, can be unreliable. Sometimes a system can take up to 24 hours to route a message to the correct box. Text messages usually don’t allow for in-depth questions ar answers. In addition, teachers have limited timeframes to check their phone messages. Like all workers, their primary jobs, teaching the students, must come first during the day.
Therefore, it can be more than a day for the teacher to return your call, depending on the other events going on in their classrooms. If you need a quick answer to a pressing question, phone calls may not work as planned.
Also, as with other forms of modern communication, it can be all too easy to speak harshly in anger on a voice mail system. If you call your child’ teacher at a time when you are upset, consider not leaving an angry message on the machine.
Rather, take the time to calm yourself and try to call back at a time when you may be able to speak directly to the teacher, or simply leave a brief statement about your issue and your return contact information. Following this protocol can definitely result in a more productive communication session.
Hint: Teachers may be available during the time before or after school to answer phone calls or Texts. Don’t call during lunchtime, as most teachers are not eating or in their classrooms, but are trying to get classroom errands accomplished before students return.
E-mail had become the technological combination phone and letter. Often we like to write down lots of information as in a letter, but expecting instant feedback, as with a phone call. Some of the same pros and cons apply to e-mail as our other two styles of communication, but some are uniquely e-mail concerns.
Pros: Email allows the sender to compose from a variety of locations, including work and home. This may allow teachers and families both to have greater amounts of time to compose their thought carefully and answer completely. Technology also allows sending of pictures and other great information that you may want to pass along.
Email can also allow for non-intrusive communication during the day. Many people cannot receive phone calls at work without being a major disruption to the work day (and overhearing your phone call with the teacher). However, many people can check their e-mail during the day without allowing everyone in the office to hear about their child’s latest information. Therefore, email, in some cases, is more private than a phone call for passing along important information. Also, teachers may use classroom email lists to notify parents of upcoming assignments, trips, or other classroom activities just as a reminder service.
Cons: As with all forms of indirect communication, there is much opportunity for meanings or intentions to be misunderstood with e-mails. Speaking tone and writer’s intent are not always easy to understand with just a written word. Therefore, at times communication may become more muddled than settled using e-mail.
Also, just as with the phone, teachers cannot often sit and reply to e-mail throughout the day. Though many of us are accustomed to e-mail providing a fast (or immediate) response, teachers often cannot reply to e-mail often during the day.
Hint: When using email, be considerate as you would when writing to any place of business. Refrain from using shortcuts, cute language, or emoticons in your email. Also, be sure to include your respond contact information including email and phone, in case there is something your child’s teacher would like to speak to you about in person.
A Final Note:
Whether you communicate with your child’s school using traditional or technological methods, it is important that you recognize the advantages and shortfalls of each. It is also important to remember that while each of our own children is the absolute focus of our lives, teachers and school personnel often have dozens, if not hundreds, of children to look after each day, and they may not be able to respond as quickly as you would like them to. When communicating with your child’s school, always remember that if you treat others the way you would like to be treated, you will definitely get better results!
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.