Effective communication between home and school is critical to student achievement. But while educators send communication to parents in the forms of emails and letters in backpacks, parents may struggle with several issues, from feeling like they’re being talked at instead of engaging in a helpful conversation to having difficulty interpreting the message.
When we speak to parents at workshops, they frequently cite that educators talk in “edu-speak,” a language full of industry terms that people outside of the education field don’t understand. It’s difficult for the parents to translate this language into actions they can take with their children to help them succeed in school. They want to be engaged but need the right resources to know how to help their children.
With these factors working against effective communication, it’s no wonder that Title I schools struggle to close the achievement gap or maximize student success. As a fully bilingual parent engagement program, we have been successful in breaking down these communication barriers between educators and parents during our YOU Program workshops. Based on our experiences, here are some communication techniques that can benefit your school’s parents.
Communicate in simple terms.
Parents in every school district have various levels of education, so it’s best to cater to the lowest level of education to ensure everyone understands your message. Present any written communication to parents in an easy-to-understand manner, with visual aids and simple terms and directions.
During in-person meetings, take visual clues from the parents. Do their expressions indicate that they understand what you’re saying, or do they look confused? Prompt them to engage in conversation with you by asking questions like, “Do you feel comfortable trying those techniques at home?” or “What do you think is the most difficult part of this approach?” In our training workshops, we provide educators with additional training on how to effectively communicate with parents.
Provide translation services and programs in their native language.
Some parents may not speak English as their first language and may struggle to communicate in it. While schools are required to provide translation services when necessary, parents might feel uncomfortable requesting them. At the beginning of the school year, distribute information on how to request translation services so these parents know you’re being proactive in helping them.
Make sure any programs you use Title I funding on are bilingual. Not only does that meet the funding eligibility criteria, but you will see greater participation and future engagement from these parents if you engage them in their native language. The YOU Program and books are available in English and Spanish, and the Spanish-speaking parents we train are tremendously engaged throughout the workshops and grateful that we’ve eliminated the language barrier. We continuously see improvement in student achievement levels after our parent workshops because participants learn effective parent engagement tools that they can use with their children, which result in students who are ready to learn at school.
Teach parents how to break the cycle.
If your school’s parents were not raised in an engaged parenting household, they likely do not know how to parent in a way that helps their child succeed. By teaching parents best practices for ensuring a child is cared for in all developmental areas—physical, social, emotional, and academic—they learn to become better parents, which leads to better students, which results in greater student success and boosting the school’s overall performance.
When evaluating your parent communication strategy, focus on how to convey that parent engagement at home is critical to a student’s success at school and in life. Just as we teach educators in our training workshops, communicate with parents in a common language that engages the parents and, in turn, benefits the teachers and students in the classroom.