Beyond the backpack note: Connecting with parents of school-age students

A parent table, like this one at Anjelica Hernandez's site, is one way to communicate with parents, but it's not the only way.

A parent table, like this one at Anjelica Hernandez’s site, is one way to communicate with parents, but it’s not the only way.

Regular conversations with parents of every child are fairly easy. Twice a day teachers and parents have an opportunity to exchange greetings and share updates about the little one during the family’s drop-off and pick-up times. The dynamic changes a bit when the child moves into elementary school as the child gains a bit of independence and parents and teachers find they have to try some new strategies to keep the bonds of communication strong.

If anyone understands this challenge, it’s our Champions teachers. Despite the often jam-packed schedule of a school-age student (and mom and dad!), Champions staff find a variety of ways to keep the channels of communication open with parents.

It all starts with talking
Verbal communication is one of the most effective ways to share information. Anjelica Hernandez, a site director at the Champions program at Alta Vista Elementary School in Los Gatos, Calif., and a recent Champions Quality Award winner, makes sure to talk to both children and their parents about upcoming events or breaks.

“I feel the best way to communicate with busy families is talking to the families personally,” she said. “Having the children make a reminder for their parents is a great way for parents to remember events.”

Leslie Barr, site director at the Champions program at Loveland Primary School in Ohio, and a 2015 Educator Award winner, agrees that face-to-face communication is best. Debbie Bowyer, site director at the Champions program at Aitken Elementary School in Seekonk, Mass., makes sure to greet families every day and to strike up conversations. She also uses monthly family nights as an opportunity to spend quality one-on-one time with parents.

“It gives parents who might be rushing in and out of the program during busy drop off and pick up times a chance to look around the program and see what their child is doing and learning,” she explained.

Shirl Rose, site director at the Champions program at Coventry Elementary in York, Va., said she always makes time to talk with parents face-to-face.

“They make time to hear what we have to say,” she said, explaining that no matter how busy their schedules, parents will make time when it comes to their child.

She also makes use of empty spaces in her school for conversations that are better had in private so parents don’t feel as though everyone is listening.

Use written communication to back up your verbal conversations
Hernandez and her team post signs every place they can: outside, by the door, and by the computer at the parent table.

“I always send out a weekly email blast every Monday to inform my parents about what’s going on in my program each week,” said Bowyer. “I let them know about the week’s curriculum and activities and of course, any important info and upcoming events.”

Bowyer also makes it a point to send out five personalized emails to parents each week – emails that include photos of that parent’s child engaged in fun activities and a personal message.

“It’s a great way to keep in touch with all of our parents and also let them see their child participating in activities and having fun in our program,” she said.

Make sure family contact information is up-to-date
It’s more than just having those details for emergency situations. Hernandez will call or email the parent who didn’t pick-up to make sure he or she knows what’s happening at the program. She also sends families special emails about events at Champions.

Some of Barr’s families asked that Champions staff text or email important dates and reminders rather than send a flyer home and risk losing the message in the chaos of coats, backpacks, and general stuff.

“We also send pictures of their children and short videos when we catch them doing something memorable,” she said, showing that communication about school-age children doesn’t have to be any different than it was when those same children were small.

No matter how old their child, or how busy their family life, every parent wants to know what happened today at school.

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