Saturday, 23 June 2012 17:28

Be Proactive in Your Communications With Parents

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Being proactive has two major benefits. First, it gives you the opportunity to package your ideas and articulate them in the best possible light. Acting first, you shape the conversation, saying your ideas in the way you want to say them, not in the way someone else has already characterized them before ever having the chance to hear from you. Proactivity increases your credibility, strengthens your voice, and reaffirms your position of leadership.

Second, proactivity is the best approach to problem prevention. Consider the following example: imagine that a brand new shipment of expensive, state-of-the-art math manipulatives has just arrived at school. Because the school could only afford one set, the staff decided that each class would get the manipulatives for three weeks. When our turn comes, I lengthen the daily math period from 45 minutes to 2 hours so we can try all the activities shown in the accompanying teacher guidebook. To compensate for the extra time that we spend on math, I don’t give any math homework for the next three weeks.

Immediately, parents became concerned. “Where’s my child’s math homework?” they ask. “Why did you stop assigning math homework?” they wonder. “Don’t you know that my child will fall behind without math practice every night?” they insist.  

Now, I have to react. The parents have already made up their minds. Based on the information they have received from their kids, they have concluded that I have stopped assigning math homework, and they don’t understand why. I have dug myself a hole, out of which I have to climb.

All this trouble could have been avoided had I been proactive. Before the first day of our three-week manipulative exploration, I should have sent home a newsletter explaining the situation. Then, the parents would have known in advance of the unique, short-term opportunity that we had to use these manipulatives and understood the value of these types of experiences. I could have told them that in order to take full advantage of this opportunity, I would be lengthening our daily math period, and that because of the extra time the kids spent on math in class, I would be decreasing the time they spend on math at home. I could have emphasized that this hiatus from math homework would only last three weeks and that the kids would not be at all disadvantaged because they were gaining valuable practice in class. Informing parents beforehand would have enabled me to accentuate the positive.  

Experience has taught me that teachers’ greatest difficulties with parents often arise from a lack of proactivity. When parents are not informed in advance about rules, units, grading policies, and the like, they have every reason to come back after the fact and say, “I didn’t know.” Once that happens, teachers are forced into a reactive, often defensive, position. The trouble is, no matter how effectively we later explain ourselves, the damage has already been done. Furthermore, by the time we have responded to one problem situation, the next crisis has occurred and needs to be addressed. A pattern soon begins. We find ourselves spending a tremendous amount of time putting out fires instead of using it to communicate proactively.