Communicating Effectively for Home Learning


Navigating the home learning landscape is easier when parents and educators stay connected. While time and energy may be in short supply for all, communicating effectively is still possible. Read on for 5 tips for successful parent-teacher communication during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Think ahead: Effective parent-teacher communication is proactive. Reach out in anticipation of home learning challenges or changing support needs. Keep it brief and use a gratitude sandwich to open dialogue around the issue: highlight something that is working well, share your concern, and close with gratitude[1].

2. Team up for growth: Instead of getting mired in praise or criticism, focus communication on how parents and teachers can work together to improve home learning for all involved[2]. Use language that emphasizes effort[3], progress, and the value of collaborating on challenging goals.

3. Make it a conversation: Successful communication is a two-way street. Too much one-sided communication, no matter how well intended, can easily overwhelm parents or teachers and lead to feelings of imbalance in the relationship. Teachers can take the lead in creating frequent opportunities for parent-teacher dialogue[4], such as by developing an easy-to-use feedback platform[5]; sending a personalized message via text or email once per week; or scheduling a regular 5 minute phone or video chat with each family. 

4. Partner up: Now, more than ever, the parent-teacher relationship needs to be a partnership[6]. Parents and teachers benefit from talking openly about how home learning plans and decisions will be made, what life in the home looks like at present, how they each will support their home learners, and what the expectations are towards individual learning goals (eg. Are all assignments required, or are some optional? What unique home learning opportunities are available to nurture students' hearts and minds?). Working together in partnership can become empowering[7] when both teachers and parents feel they can have a meaningful impact on the home learning experience.

5. Put feelings first: Emotional intelligence[8] is essential to effective parent-teacher communication in our current climate of stress and uncertainty. Being aware of your emotions and the emotions of others is the first step in nurturing emotional intelligence. Self-regulation and empathy – which are linked to feeling Alert & Engaged and Compassionate & Kind – are the next steps. Use the Mood Meter gain awareness of your or your home learner's emotional state, a mindfulness app such as Stop, Breathe & Think to help manage feelings that are difficult or overwhelming, and experiment with a self-compassion practice to boost kindness towards self and others. 

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Focusing on improvement in parent-teacher communications is especially valuable for students. Kraft & Rogers (2015) found that sending a one-sentence personalized message home to parents each week boosted student engagement, especially when the messages emphasized how students could improve. 

Expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships and foster resilience, which we all could use a little more of these days!

Kraft & Dougherty (2013) found that regular phone calls and text/email messages home improved parent-teacher communication and increased students’ participation, homework completion, and on-task behavior. 

See “Growth-Mindset Language for Communicating with Teachers,” developed by Mindset Works, for practical suggestions. The ideas under the heading “When the teacher is discouraged and feeling helpless” are particularly helpful as we adapt to the home learning context.

While these suggestions were developed for staff within the school environment, they can be easily adapted for home learning, in which parents’ and teachers’ roles increasingly overlap. 

Ideas include:

  • creating an email "comment box,"
  • developing online survey
  • hosting a virtual town hall

The book “School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action” (2018) is an excellent resource for building resilient parent-teacher partnerships.

About the author: Joyce Epstein is the Director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and a Professor of Education in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Inclusion in decision making, consideration of family circumstances and local needs, and invitation to determine their own level of involvement can all help parents feel empowered in their relationship with teachers and schools (Christianakis, 2011). 

True partnership begins by acknowledging that each partner brings unique expertise to the relationship: parents know their children’s worlds inside and out, and teachers are experts at engaging, nurturing, and supporting young learners. 

Working together in partnership can become empowering when both teachers and parents feel they can have a meaningful impact on the home learning experience. Christianakis, 2011). 

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions, and has five components.