How to Respond to Parent Emails | PD in Plain English

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We’re rollin’ deep in July, guys. In Nashville that means one thing: summer is almost over. It feels hard to believe! Didn’t summer just get started???

Let’s take these last few weeks as an opportunity to relax extra hard, and maybe absorb a thing or two to help us out for next year. In an effort to help with the second part, I want to offer you a new blog series: PD in Plain English. Quick, easy-to-digest pieces of advice and how-to’s that are (hopefully) HIGHLY applicable to real classrooms.

Having conversations with teachers about what’s really going on in their rooms is my absolute jam, so please join the conversation with me on Instagram if you agree or disagree with what I’m about to say! Let’s get started…

PD In Plain English | How to Respond to Parent Emails

We’re all professionals here, but I think we can admit that at some point in our careers we’ve each had a parent or guardian send us an email questioning our decision. And that kind of confrontation can make us (or at least me) a little nervous. When I was a coach, a teacher received a tricky email from a parent and approached me with questions about how to respond. I had to think on the fly at the time, but I have sense been able to formulate a more clear answer to this question, and I wanted to share!

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 that I advocate for myself and the student, while also building a relationship with the parent. Both should be your goal!

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

I like to open emails this way, not to suck up, but 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 know that I am on their team, which is why I made the decision that I did. This can be as simple of a sentence as, “Thank you so much for taking the time to ask questions about this”, or “Thank you for reaching out about this matter”.

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. This can sound like, “I understand that you are confused about why Jess received a C on that assignment”. Or, “I can see that you have some questions about why Gray brought home a think sheet today”.

**Note: this is also a good place to apologize if the confusion came from a lack of proactive communication on your end. Is the parent confused about the think sheet, because this child has never gotten one before, and you’ve never explained this procedure to this parent? It probably should have come with an additional note or email, so apologize! Apologies do not make you weak, and do not mean you’re being pushed around. :)

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 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 parents that 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 are correct in stating that their idea would be best for their child. They know their child best, after all. But their idea may unintentionally cause conflict with another child. You need to maintain confidentiality for all other children in your class, so you can explain this without naming names or giving away personal information about any other children. If you can find a compromise between what you feel is best, and what the parent is asking for, do it! But be sure it aligns with what you believe is a healthy, positive community for your classroom.

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, face-to-face, 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 you believe that so adults you encounter through your work can see that.

Remain kind, but confident. Over time, you will establish yourself as someone who deeply cares for the kiddos who have been put in your care, and the questions will decrease. But in the meantime, remember that all parents just want to be comfortable with where they are sending their babies off to every day. It’s not anything personal against you-it comes from a place of love for their child!

If you want a handy printable to share with fellow staff, or keep in a teacher binder for yourself, click the image below to download this summary of this post!

As an additional freebie for y’all, I have updated the look of my Digital Parent Communication log! This has been in my TPT Store for a few years, but it needed an update, so here you go! If you’d prefer to hand-write your communication log, just download this file as a PDF and print it out. :)

Happy teaching, y’all!

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Stephanie Sutherland