Hearing crickets from parents at your school? Try this.

Of all my childhood memories at school, one highlight was when my dad made a windmill for a class demonstration on how wind works. I also remember the day our class and parents visited the local observatory and got to peer through a telescope together.

It's interesting to note what children remember when their families are involved at school.

When your school or district accepts Title I funds, you know that building integrated relationships between leadership, educators, and families is imperative to high student performance…

… and you also know you need to “check the box” to continue to receive your Title I funds.

Our newest workshop - Engage! Online - is the easiest and most effective way to check that box, but first let me tell you a bit about what happens when schools and parents start partnering for student learning.

After taking our in-person seminar, one low-income high school in Tennessee began taking students to visit state colleges. These students had never visited a college before - and it was life-changing for them and their families.

Do you know who asked for this and supported it wholeheartedly? The parents!

This college field trip started with what I call Two-Way Communication - when school leadership and teachers start having conversations with parents and listening to them on what they want to improve at the school.

During their training, and in the subsequent months of coaching, the school and parents in Tennessee built a family engagement team.

The first project was to fix the baseball field fence, then landscaping, and soon the parents felt safe enough to bring up topics like their child’s test scores and college options.

Trust had been established with small projects and the door was now open for Two-Way Communication. 

From Crickets to Conversations: How Two-Way Communication Thrives in the Toughest Environments

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who just stubbed their toe? It’s not the easiest time to bring up something new you want to do together OR to share bad news.

The other person could be upset and focused on something completely different than the topic you had in mind. Often, they can’t even hear what you’re saying.

One-Way Communication is kind of like trying to speak to someone who just stubbed their toe, and as educators, we can make the mistake of *thinking* we’re offering Two-Way Communication when we’re really offering Stubbed Toe Communication AKA One-Way Communication.

Let me give you some examples: We send home flyers, newsletters, and use robo-dials to call parents. We reach out ONLY when there’s a problem or emergency, and when families do show up to a parent-teacher conference or class meeting, we often talk to them about the class or their child and we move on. We’ve done our job. We’ve reached out.

However, it doesn’t always feel great from the other side.

I once moved to a new neighborhood with my kids. No one knew what I did yet for work, so the parents were very open about sharing what they thought of the schools and teachers.

I welcomed the “insider info”! I wanted to know both as a parent and as an educator what they truly thought.

I learned that some teachers were great and open and available for me to approach them. I also learned that others made parents feel like they needed to stay out at all costs.

If the parents had been talking about me as an educator, some of what they shared would have been hard to hear - but wouldn’t it also have been valuable to know what they really liked and what they wanted more of and where I could improve?

Again, building integrated relationships between leadership, teachers, and parents is imperative to high performance a learning - for both the students and for our own development as educators who care about student success!

Five Ways to Build Two-Way Communication

If the first and maybe only call I receive during the school year is about what my child has done wrong, it’s not likely I will engage much with the school. However, we can change all of that.

A unique feature of Two-Way Communication is expressing interest and creating avenues for getting a response back and moving from monologue to dialogue.

Here are 5 Ways to Build Two-Way Communication in Your Classroom:

  1. Ask Parents What They Want. If your school hosts an Open House, ask parents: How would you like to learn about what your child is doing this year in school?

  2. Create a “Get to Know Me” flyer to send home. Include your photo, where you went to school, and why you teach. Also be sure to include the ways parents can reach you. You could even create a template flyer for parents to fill out with what they love about their child to send back to you.

  3. Make small, intentional connections. Each week make a list of 3 parents of kids in your class to connect with. Then, make a short call, text, or write a personal note to these parents. Make it a practice to connect with a few parents a week just to give them a positive comment about their child.

  4. Make the Parents the Students :) Invite parents for a potluck and a visit to your classroom. Let them see what their children are doing. This doesn’t have to be stiff or overly planned out; they will have questions when you invite them!

  5. Include parents in projects you’re already doing. What do you need done in your classroom? Changing bulletin boards? Reorganizing the classroom in between seasons? Can a parent who is a nurse teach first aid? Or, a carpenter help build a bookshelf?

Have you ever had a hard time getting feedback from parents? What’s helped you move from a silent monologue into a dialogue with parents?

Leave me a comment below and let me know. Your comments could help another educator looking for ideas.

And, if you want to get a jump start + TONS of support on meeting family engagement requirements for your Title I funds, check out our newest course: Engage! Online.

We’ve built this program to be the most practical way to meet your Title I requirements, while also being easy and thorough.

Completely committed to your success,
Dr. Joni

P.S. This blog post was created in response to YOUR questions. Be sure to submit yours in our “Ask Dr. Joni” form.