4 Steps to Responding to Tricky Emails

Happy August! 

I can't even believe the school year is in full-swing for us. Things have been crazy, as all school years always are the beginning...but I know we are getting close to things settling down!

Things have been especially crazy for me this year, because I transitioned out of the classroom and am trying to fumble my way through a new position as an instructional coach. It's tough to not be with a class of my own every day. I thought I would welcome the break from the classroom stress, but I have missed it much more than I thought I would!

One of the unexpected challenges of being a coach is trying to verbalize things I did to solve problems. How did I teach my students rotations? How did I teach them how to line up? How did I organize my classroom? How did I manage parent communication?

One of the things I had to figure out to explain this week is how I respond to parent emails. Communication with parents is soooo important, and I fully embrace it even now as a coach. But I do remember being a brand new teacher and obsessing over every little email, trying to figure out if the parent was sizing me up as a professional, or just genuinely curious. 

It's great when you want to work with your parents as a team to provide all students the best educational experiences possible. You can send out newsletters, send home weekly folders with notes in them, send out an email blast to a parent list, have a website to post to...there are all kinds of ways you can consistently keep parents in the loop as to what is happening within your classroom! 

However, it's inevitable that, no matter how professional and consistent you are with communication, a parent will question a routine or assignment you did. They will question a behavior management tactic you tried. They will question a response to a question you provided. 

The first thing to accept, especially if you're new, is that it happens to everyone. It's probably literally impossible to go through your teaching career and come in contact with SO many different personalities through your parents every year and never have one ask questions about the way you do things.

If you have a self-contained homeroom of 20 students, that right there gives you up to 40 adults you'll be talking to regularly about your classroom. All 40 of those adults have different educational experiences of their own they are bringing to the table. They have different backgrounds and levels of knowledge about what you're actually doing. They have different understandings. That creates conflict

But none of this has to be intimidating. When it comes to responding to emails (or really phone calls and in-person conferences, too!), I like to follow 4 steps to ensure I have covered my bases!

These 4 steps help me stay on track and express myself effectively, regardless of any emotions that may be present.

Step 1: Thank the parent for being invested in his/her child's education.

I like to open emails this way, because I truly believe that that is where questions about education come from. Parents have given you their

baby

 for the majority of the week! That is stressful and they really worry about where they are sending their kiddos off to day after day. If you're new to teaching, or new to their community, they may not automatically trust that you're the expert (which you are, by the way...getting a degree in teaching is no easy feat!) I always want parents to feel like I am on their team, which is

why

I made the decision that I did. 

Step 2: Acknowledge the parent's concerns.

I like to restate my understanding of the parent's concerns so if I am totally off-base they can tell me. I also want my parents to know that I really read and focused on what they were saying...enough that I could restate it. 

Step 3: Justify your beliefs/actions.

This part is important. You have to know

why

you chose to teach a standard that way, or why you chose to handle a behavior problem that way. If you do...you know the research behind it, or you have had extensive experience in this area and find this way to truly be the best, this is where you make sure the parents know that. When I was a new teacher, I always felt like I had to tell the parents they were right. I learned quickly that I should defend what I am doing for the whole of my class, not cater to every single family's individual requests. I also learned that sometimes parents feel like their idea would be the best for their student, but they don't have the experience with working with your whole class. If you change things for one student, and throw off the dynamic of your entire classroom, it may be more disruptive for that student in the end!

Step 4: Invite the parent to continue the conversation. 

I always close by letting the parents know that I am available to answer more questions in whatever mode they prefer (phone, in-person, etc.) I let them know my planning time when I can take calls or meet in person, and the days I have coming up that I know I am free. 

These steps typically create a more open sense of communication between you and the parent. They feel heard and understood, but also tend to understand your reason for doing the things the way you did. You are the professional in your classroom, and it's important that your parents believe that! 

You can print out these steps in a handy printable by clicking the image!

To help you organize and keep track, I have a little Parent Communication Log Freebie (Google Drive style!) for you to download. That's the true final step of any parent interaction...record it!

Happy Teaching, friends! :) 

PS- Don't forget it, Pin it!

Stephanie Sutherland