In order to really make an impact on the faith lives of our students, we have to be intentional about building bridges between us as religious educator and our students’ parents. We cannot sit back and wait for the parents to encounter Christ on their own. We have to develop relationships with them that are meaningful and empowering.
That has been a goal of mine for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I did anything about it. Communicating with parents was always just an item sitting on my to-do list that never really getting done. I felt guilty about it. I knew I should be writing notes and emails and making phone calls, but I only got around to it every once in awhile.
The times I did get in touch with parents were great. They responded positively. Sometimes, it was the spark we needed to get real conversations going before or after classes. It almost always made a difference. I just needed to make the commitment to do it.
The Key to Parent Communication
Finally, towards the end of this year, I made one-on-one communication with parents a habit. It became a part of my weekly routine.
Remember, communicating with parents was on my list of things I knew I should do. Most of those things never got done. I had to get this goal from my “should do” list to my “doing” list.
With such busy lives and so many different things to do, it can be difficult to make time for the things that we know are important but not necessarily urgent.
Lesson planning, for example, is always urgent because we need to have something to teach our students. In Catholic schools, grading is something that is important but only urgent when grades are due. Reaching out to parents does not become an urgent task until we have discipline or performance issues with a student.
We already know how difficult it is to make time to teach everything we have to teach in a given year, so how do we add this element of communication with parents?
The only way I have found to complete any task that is important but not urgent, is to put it on my calendar.
In other words, the only way to make sure you communicate regularly with parents is to schedule it.
Every Tuesday, the day after I meet with my second grade students, I have on my checklist for the day:
“CCD: Write a note to compliment one parent.”
This year I’ve done it via email, but I know hand-written notes are more powerful. (Walk before you run, right?) The emails still make a difference and I’ve gotten some great conversations started with parents.
Why compliment a parent?
Basically, I have found that parents rarely get positive feedback from teachers and catechists other than on report cards at the end of the year. To get a random compliment from an educator is unexpected and it can really make someone’s day.
Most of the time parents only get messages and phone calls when a student does something bad. Imagine the excitement when they get a note about something good!
Making the Commitment to Communicate with Parents
Here are a few suggestions for getting started on this regular communication habit:
1. Add it to your calendar.
Whether you use an online calendar like Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook, or a hand-written planner, schedule this communication time just as you would schedule any other meeting during your day. Commit to writing a note to a parent during that time.
2. Start small: one parent at a time.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of students that you teach. Just pick one student’s parents each week and write them a note. Over time, if you pace yourself correctly, you will get notes out to everyone at some point. If you really get this habit ingrained in your weekly routine, you might find yourself writing to parents multiple times a year in addition to your semester, quarterly, or annual reports.
3. Use a script.
In 31 Days, I offered a suggestion for the kind of notes you might want to write. You can copy and edit your own here. You can basically create a fill-in-the-blank note and add in details for each student or parent. Just make sure you are specific and authentic with your feedback.
4. Tell stories.
Parents love hearing stories about their kids. Write about a specific story and expand on it when you meet them in person. Any parent will tell you how difficult it can be to get real stories about what happens in their children’s day. “I don’t know,” is the most common answer we get to questions about their days.
Go Further: Empower the Parents
Working effectively with parents is one of the most commonly cited challenges I hear from religious educators who subscribe to The Religion Teacher.
To help catechists, teacher, and catechetical leaders communicate and evangelize parents, I created a course called “Empowering Parents.”
If you are interested in this course, all you have to do is sign up for a monthly or annual membership to The Religion Teacher.
(And don’t forget that if you sign up as a member, you get access to dozens of class videos, many catechist formation courses, and weekly readings worksheets that you can use to teach about the Sunday readings.)