Effective teacher-to-parent communication is very important to Anthony Berthiaume.
Anthony has worked in the criminal justice system, and he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on email communication.
Currently, Anthony is the Superintendent of North Lothrop Public Schools, and has had a very interesting journey to where he is now. Anthony and I had the opportunity to chat about effective teacher-to-parent communication. Here is a condensed transcript of that conversation.
3 Tips for Effective Parent Communication
Vanessa: Based on your experience and research, what three tips can you share with our teacher community about effective parent communication?
1. Control the Message.
Anthony: Between social media and what your student goes home and tells his/her parents, I think first and foremost teachers need to control the message. I think providing up front what the expectations are in the classroom is key. Finding that balance between making sure you are highlighting all the positive things you are doing in the classroom, because let’s just be honest, I think that in today’s age, sometimes education is not getting a fair perception in our society. I think teachers are so valuable to our youth. Teachers provide important guidance in our classroom to our students who are going to be our future leaders, athletes, or whoever else. I think those teachers have a huge impact.
2. Communicate the Positives.
The second point is making sure you highlight the positive things that are going on in the classroom. Take pictures and send them home, weekly updates to parents, I think these are great ways to just start that communication with parents.
You want parents to feel comfortable coming and talking to you.
When I guest speak I always talk about this circle between the educator, teacher, the parent, and the student. It’s a full circle. That really develops the culture and climate in your classroom of those difficult phone calls, and we will get into that more here in a second. Again, controlling the message and highlighting the positives with consistent communication, that goes a long way with parents and opens up that door in regards to what parents and students can expect in the classroom.
3. First Impressions Go a Long Way.
I think the third point that really goes a long way is the introduction. I know it can take a lot of time to do it, but take three to four names each day after school and make a phone call home to parents within the first month of school. What better way to introduce yourself and have that positive conversation?
Hopefully, you get that support of the parents right away, rather than calling your student’s mom every couple of weeks because he or she is in trouble. That’s not how you build that relationship with parents. So, I think that’s the third one, that icebreaker that people talk about, that I think can go a long way with, not only teachers, but with parents, and it can go a long way to open that door in regards to communication.
Vanessa: I observed similar things when I was a teacher. I really worked to prioritize communication upfront, and the benefit is that, later on, the email communication is way less awkward because you’ve built up a strong rapport. When you call them to tell them the good things, it makes it a little bit easier when you have to share some challenges that you are facing, and you can partner together and brainstorm as one unified team to solve the problem.
Parents just want to know that you care about their child.
Anthony: A parent is trusting that teacher for 180 days of the year, 6+ hours a day, parents want to know that you care. Working as a team together to help your student, help your child, grow. I think that goes a long way when you establish that partnership between teacher and parent.
Vanessa: You’re right. It’s the same thing even up to high school. You can have more effective teacher-parent communication, because ultimately what we are really trying to get at when we teach, is we want to engage our students. If their families are engaged, then the student will be more engaged too.
Anthony: Even inviting parents in to volunteer, I think that goes a long way, too. They get to see what is going on each day. They get to see their child having fun, making friends, and actually learning. What better thing as a parent do you get to see? I’m grateful for the teachers my kids have had; they do an excellent job. That’s one of the things that goes a long way in regards to that partnership.
Remember What Teaching is About.
Vanessa: Anthony, what word of encouragement do you have for educators in our community right now?
Anthony: It’s stay positive. Remember why we do the job that we do. As long as we can remember that message of why we are doing it, whether it be virtual, or we go back face-to-face, we have to wipe down desks, or we have to wear masks. Again, why did we get into the field? If the number one reason is not for the kids, then we really need to reevaluate what we are doing, and I’m trying to be very transparent about that. I have to remember that too. Just to be honest.
Vanessa: Okay, Anthony, last thing for today, I did not prepare you for this intentionally. It’s called “The Fast Five.” I loved doing this as a teacher. “The Fast Five” is a true test of gut instinct and authenticity. It’s 5 questions that our guests get to answer with zero preparation. You ready, Anthony?
Anthony: Shoot. Ready.
What is the best part about working in education?
Anthony: I’m not going to say kids, because that’s the easy one. How about relationships? Relationships that you develop with teachers and parents and community members. But, number one would be kids, but I’ve already said that enough.
What is the worst part about working in education?
Anthony: I think that’s the hardest part of education now is that negative aspect and those tough conversations with parents that don’t have a positive feel about your district or what the teacher is doing in the classroom. When you know what that teacher is doing, and you know the effort he or she is putting in. I think that’s one of the more difficult ones.
What did you learn about yourself during quarantine/pandemic life?
Anthony: That I can actually be a dad, I can be a teacher, and I can be a superintendent. I’m not sure how good I am at all three at the same time. I think that’s what I learned most is that you have to structure your day and you have to look at those teachers, even more so, at how they balance that in the classroom, every day with these kids. I’m dealing with three and they are dealing with 30 kids, and how much they do on a daily basis to get these kids to learn. Kudos to teachers everywhere.
Which character on The Office are you most like?
Anthony: I like Pam. I think she’s an awesome character. I like her balance with everything. She seems to keep it under control, and my slogan as a superintendent is always slow and steady. Just be slow and steady and you’ll figure it out. I always tell people, when I start getting nervous then you should start getting nervous. So I guess Pam. Pam is a simple answer.
What are you reading right now?
Anthony: I read professionally. I’m not a big book reader, I watch Netflix, I could go on about shows I stream, but what I mostly read is a lot of true law. I read a lot of MASB – Michigan Association of School Board. Legislative stuff that is taking place. So really that is my focus. Lately I’ve been reading the road map that came out June 30th by our Governor. It’s all marked up. It’s like I’m back in my Ph.D. days where I’m underlining, writing important on the side of it. A lot of that goes a long way with the professional practice of always being that constant learner that we are suppose to be.
Vanessa: Anthony, thank you so much. Thank you for your time. We appreciate what you have shared your parent-to-teacher communication tips with us.
Anthony: Stay strong everybody!
— Vanessa Lane is the Content Marketing Lead at Concordia University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. When she's not at work, she can be found playing with her kids or watching NBA basketball with her husband.
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