5 Adjustments to Consider When Communicating With Your Students’ Families This Year


5 Adjustments to Consider When Communicating With Your Students' Families This Year

The first welcome letter or email you send at the start of a new school year is so important for setting the tone for communicating with families. It’s easy to grab and use the same old handouts year after year. After all, they pretty much get the job done, and how much do things really change from one year to the next? 

Well, there’s no doubt this year is much different than any of us have ever seen. Learning environments are unlike anything teachers have experienced in the past, and it’s good to be mindful of this in our communication. While it can be easy to fall into the habit of reusing the same communication year after year, let’s take a moment to look at our communication materials to update, modify, and even rethink the approach this school year. Clearly communicating with families leads to better student engagement, so it’s definitely worth the effort.

Here are some of the things to be looking at and questions to ask while making modifications to make communication clearer and more inclusive. These are small but important ways to bring just a little more compassion and understanding to classroom materials, emails, and start-of-the-year handouts to help families in this weird and challenging time. Plus, these are just good questions to think about in general to be more inclusive and friendly to all. 

1. Think about “who” you are talking to when communicating with families.

Over the years, handouts have been narrow in their use of equitable language. It’s time we do better. This year, pledge to look at all materials with a fresh set of eyes. You might not even have paper handouts this year and everything will be done digitally. We can’t assume we know who is on the receiving end of our communication. It might be a grandparent, neighbor, or foster parent. Small changes in wording, such as “families” instead of “parents,” make a big difference. In addition, we need to remember that the reader on the receiving end likely doesn’t understand or care about educational jargon. This means we need to keep the message short, simple, and to the point. This might mean some word cutting and editing, but families will benefit from it in the end.

2. Make the “what” question as clear as possible.

You might find that the message you give in a one-on-one setting doesn’t always come across best or clearly in written materials. When you look at your classroom materials, consider adding a “Key Takeaways” with each mail point or section. Think of it as a learning target for families. They will be able to quickly see the key points without having to weed through hundreds of words. While educators would like to think families read every last word of our thoughtful messages, we know deep down that they skim it and don’t always see everything. So by defining the “what” very clearly, you can have more direct communication with families than ever. 

3. Even if you can’t answer the “when,” try to give families information.  

The “when” is probably the toughest question of all when communicating with families because it’s constantly changing. Everything is uncertain right now. It’s hard for teachers to pinpoint timing or give concrete answers to questions. While you might not be able to answer all the “when” questions, all teachers can make communication very clear about where they can get the latest information. If you plan to do daily communication with families this year, then let them know that upfront. Help them get in the habit of checking in and knowing where to look for information. It’s important for students to have schedules and to allow families to plan what works for them. This information needs to come through in addressing the “when” so parents can start getting things figured out on their end, too. Also, always make sure parents know what times you are available for a quick phone call or chat for those follow-up questions.

4. Remember everyone has a different “where” when it comes to learning environment.

Every single family has a different learning environment, and we can’t forget this as teachers. We cannot assume that students have a separate learning environment in their home. They might have challenges like pets, siblings, or working parents. They might not have access to a printer or school supplies. Also, kids learn in different ways. Some kids will be seamless in their transition and even thrive. Others will struggle with working from home or may constantly get distracted. So have your communication address this head-on. Make it clear that you are open to discuss making modifications and adjustments to make it work for them. Families should feel welcome and encouraged no matter what the learning environment is. Try to be open and welcoming to all, helping them come up with creative ways to further their child’s education. 

5. Show families your passion for the “why” of it all. 

It’s a tough year. We’re all wondering how it’s going to go, and we’ve had plenty of doubts along the way. Help your families identify and celebrate the “why.” At the end of the day, teachers are doing this for the love of working with students and education. Remind your families just how resilient their kids are and how they can get through even the toughest situations. Positive language can go a long way in the classroom. Show families that it matters to you by making this clear in your language. Help families see this by making sure materials have strong, encouraging language that shows why it’s worth it. 

As this year unfolds, the uncharted landscape will necessitate adjustments and adaptation. Changing your materials when communicating with families will better meet the needs of the students and families that you serve. When you ground yourself in compassion and respectful inclusivity, you can minimize the impact these unforeseen changes will have on students. This will empower families with clear expectations, concise messages, and flexible collaboration from the first day of school to the very last. 

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5 Adjustments to Consider When Communicating With Your Students' Families This Year

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Tom Dittl

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Tom is a dad, educator, writer, and science nerd. Before stepping into the classroom, he worked in film, music, and TV production in NYC as well as theatrical stage technical direction. He loves music, all things games, and most of all his two daughters. When not teaching or writing, you'll find him building in the woodshop, baking, or 3D printing something amazing.

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