Recently I had the opportunity to share some of my favorite highlights in our new communications course here at Learners Edge: Course 5037:Stronger School Communities Through Improved Communication. Today, I’d like to tackle a specific teacher-parent communication challenge—parent emails. Up to 90% of communication is nonverbal, so just imagine how much we don’t ‘see’ when we open up our inbox! Often, anything other than the most basic message is lost in an email. These potential misunderstandings can have a big impact on teacher-parent relationships, so it’s important that we spend time developing our email skills to build and maintain positive connections with families.
Here is a quick checklist of ideas for writing emails that will help you improve clarity and develop trust with parents. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you’re going through your inbox—and see what an impact a few small changes have!
Follow the Golden Rule
The ‘golden rule’ of teacher-parent communication is to start the year on a positive note. If you anticipate using email communication throughout the year, take the time to send a classroom greeting to all parents within the first week of school. This sets a positive tone and makes parents more likely to read and respond to future emails. Include news parents can use, like your contact information, homework policy and upcoming projects, and be sure to thank parents in advance for their support and partnerships. This is also a great time to share your email policy, including how quickly they can expect a response and if you are available for replies on weekends and holidays. At the end of my first email of the year, I liked to ask parents to send a quick reply with a silly response, like their child’s favorite TV character in kindergarten, just to make sure my message was getting out to every family. This way, I could follow up with a phone call to families who may not have ready access to email.
Use That Subject Line!
Take the time to write detailed subject lines so parents have a clear understanding of the main topic you plan to address in the email. If possible, try to use a consistent format, one that you can adjust each time so your messages take on a familiar look: “A Note from Mr. Brown’s Class about____” is simple and effective. Clear subject lines are especially helpful for parents who deal with full inboxes each day—which is pretty much every parent these days!
Keep It Short and Sweet
True confession, I am a recovering email ‘novelist’—the queen of multi-paragraph emails. There was just so much I wanted to say! In the past few years, I’ve learned to refine my skills (it’s a work in progress), in part because a respected administrator told me short emails are a sign of respect. She believed a succinct email showed parents we took the time to figure out exactly what needed to be said before we hit ‘send.’ Now, I try to see my email from my recipient’s perspective. Long blocks of text can be overwhelming, especially for busy parents or parents who may feel some apprehension towards school communications in general. I try to follow these simple rules:
- Keep paragraphs to four or five lines each, so they are easy to read
- Use bullet points or lists when possible
- Stick to one or two topics per email and send additional topics in a separate e-mail
If I can’t follow these rules, it’s probably a sign that another form of communication is needed, such as a phone call or face-to-face meeting.
Avoid Negative Traps
Never send an important email until you’ve taken the time to think about your response. Most of us want to reply quickly to parent concerns, but if a parent seems upset or the situation is complex, it’s okay to send a quick response thanking them for the email or question and letting them know you will return their email later. This will eliminate frustrations and misunderstandings, and give you time to craft a well-informed response.
If you find yourself reacting negatively to a parent concern or criticism in an email, try some positive framing as you work to determine the real intent of the sender. Parents want the best for their children, and sometimes their concerns or fears for their child can come off as anger or even a personal attack. It’s our job to listen with empathy, even when the message comes digitally. If you feel the tone is too negative, or the topic will require (or is requiring) multiple emails, skip or halt the email discussion altogether. Some situations—especially emotional ones—are best handled over the phone or in person. In fact, our willingness to come out from behind the email is not only most efficient in these cases, it also shows true compassion and professionalism.
I hope these tips will help you as you work to improve email communication with your parents this year! Have another email tip to share? Share it below!
Looking for some additional tips on how to establish better parent-teacher relationships? Download our Parent Partnerships 101 white paper, and learn 10 tips you can use to help build positive parent relationships.
If you are a New Teacher looking for strategies to connect with your student's parents and other great tips for your first year in the classroom, explore our New Teacher Resources!