Ten Secrets to Effective Parent Communication

Communicating Effectively with Parents

As the school year begins, an important part of starting school for every counselor is establishing communication with parents.  This is especially true in the younger years but even in later years, counselors have a responsibility to keep parents informed.  I know you probably got into this field because you enjoy working with kids, not adults, but if you ignore or avoid this aspect of the job you are really doing the students you work with a disservice. Depending on how you set up your system, this can be a chore or an opportunity to engage parents in a positive way in their child’s education.  Here are some ways to insure success without stressing yourself out…

Ten Secrets to Effective Parent-Counselor Communication

  1. Have a plan for positive feedback-Every parent wants their child to be successful and you can start the year off on a positive note by sharing something positive in the first week of school with parents.  Since kids are usually on their best behavior for the first week or so, this shouldn’t be too hard!  Make sure every parent you engage with hears something positive from you about their child.
  2. Set boundaries around your time and let parents know what they are–Be clear about when you can answer questions and at what point you are available to respond to emails and/or phone calls.  This is important for parents but it’s also important for your peace of mind. You are doing yourself and the parents a favor when you define the time that  you are off work and spending time with your own family.
  3. Have regular routines for communication-Let parents know what they can expect when you receive a referral, when you teach classroom lessons or involve students in small group and any other duties that you may have such as coordinating 504 meetings.  Don’t assume parents will just naturally understand what you expect.  Make it clear from the beginning… then remind them periodically.  We all have busy, complicated lives that involve juggling many roles.
  4. Be authentic–Let parents know something about you and your own story.  If you are a parent with preschoolers and juggling your career with being a parent, let parents know.  If you are working on your masters at night and counseling during the day, share that. This doesn’t mean you are looking for sympathy or support (hopefully you are getting that elsewhere!), just that the more real you are with others, the better the chance you will connect in a positive way.
  5. Be open to suggestions– Even if you’ve done something the same way for the last fifteen years, listen when parents suggest changing in some way.  What may have worked well in the beginning, may no longer be the best way to stay in touch. You don’t have to follow every suggestion or whim but honor the request with your attention.
  6. Be aware that everything you do is communication-While there are many formal ways that you will communicate, be aware that everything you do is communication.  Even your website bio, sending an email or answering a phone call  leaves a permanent impression of who you are.  Always consider how it will come across to others.
  7. Express gratitude-Educators are usually great at writing thank you notes for end of the year gifts but what about a thank you for the parent who signed their child up for a small group or attended a parent training that you put on? It doesn’t have to be a formal note.  A smile and a sincere thanks can work just as well.
  8. Recognize parent effort-Most parents are putting forth a lot of effort to be the best they know how to be.  Be sure to give them a compliment even for things that we might consider “expected”.  Thank them for taking the time to attend a meeting or for making sure their child gets to school on time, for example. You never know the effort or the story behind the end result.
  9. Share your expertise and insight-As a counselor, you have the benefit of being knowledgeable about child development and  child needs that others may not. Share what you know and see so parents can learn from your example.
  10. Prepare parents ahead of time for meetings–Most parents don’t know what to expect when they attend meetings. For many, it is an intimidating experience. Prepare them ahead of time by letting them know the time frame, who will be there, the content and the decisions that may be made at the meeting.  This will help parents not only be more comfortable but will give them some insight into what questions they might have. Be the connection between parents and school personnel as everyone strives to create the best possible experience for the student.

Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section…

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Wyatt has never liked change, at least not at first.  Once he tries something new, he usually finds he really likes it.  Now that he is about to begin kindergarten, Wyatt is really worried.  Will he make friends?  Will he get lost in the new school?  Will he miss his mom?  Join Wyatt in his latest “wonder-full” adventure!
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  1. […] prove a point and a lack of sensitivity to the intentions and efforts of others.  How can you best ensure that a conference starts on the right track, ends with an action plan for moving forward and doesn’t get derailed in […]

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