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How to be Specific when Communicating with Parents

Research suggests that school-to-parent communication can promote productive parental involvement, and this, in turn, can have a positive impact on student achievement. How can teachers and schools effectively communicate with parents to promote the positive parental involvement that may result in improved student achievement?

One of the pillers of effective communication with parents is to be specific and avoid ambiguity.

Parents’ lack of familiarity with instructional processes may present a challenge to their cooperation with teachers’ requests. Teacher communication lacking specific instructions for parents may result in frustration for both the parents and the teacher.

Teachers should always avoid vague statements like:
“Children who read more become better readers”, or
“Please read with your child for ten minutes every day”

The teacher has made what she perceives as a specific request, but without a definition of “read with”, do these statements tell the parents precisely what the teacher wants them to do? Some parents would have questions like: “How much do I read during each session? How do I structure these readings? What should I look for when we are reading? How do I know he is making progress? How can I measure this progress? Would you show me how I should read to/with him?”

Parents who do not know how to comply with the teacher’s request may perceive ambiguity as a reflection of indifference or insensitivity to the parent’s needs. When the parent does not comply, the teacher perceives the noncompliance as indifference on the part of the parent. In this scenario, what started as a well-intended suggestion resulted in a mutual perception between the parent and the teacher that the other is indifferent to the child’s needs.

If the teacher provides specific instructions, parents will know—or at least have a better idea of—how to help.

A better specific statement might be:
“One way you can help your child develop her reading skills is to read (this book) out loud to her for two minutes and then have her read (this book) out loud to you for two minutes for a total of ten minutes every day”

The message could also be customized with suggestions for follow-up activities to address the students’ needs while respecting the parents’ ability to comply. If a written explanation is too daunting, a video explanation and demonstration could accomplish the same purpose.

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