Monday, September 28, 2009

Works for Me Monday: Parent Communication

Those of us who work with nonverbal students know just how important good communication between home and school is. One of the earliest lessons I learned as a teacher was the value of writing detailed notes home. As one parent put it, her child can't come home and tell her what happened at school that day. It's all well and good for the teacher/staff to write "good day" on the note, but what does that mean exactly? What did she learn? What made her happy? Did anything make her upset? Did she eat well? Take a nap? See a therapist? Make a new friend? Go out in the community?

Throughout my career I've used a number of different methods to communicate with the parents of my students. I've used SOP (summary of progress) notes on NCR paper (expensive and challenging to store), spiral notebooks, and, my current favorite, photocopied checklists (I adapted mine from one Kate Ahern posted to the Boardmaker yahoo group and later to ). My checklist, with full credit to Kate, is copied front and back. One side is School to Home and the other is Home to School. It contains boxes for information like mood, meal times, personal and medical care, reminders and "need-to-bring" lists, daily activities check list, and notes. Daily notes used to take me at least 30 minutes when I had to write everything out in the spirals. In addition, because of the repetitive nature of our business, I often felt like I was writing the same things over and over. With the checklist I have cut my note writing time in half and it's easy for parents to scan through for the essential information while still knowing what their child did that day at school. In addition, my paras are much more comfortable filling out the notes themselves and even related services providers have been seen to use them. We send our notes back and forth in three ring binders (the same used by the kids' peers in class). If there is a note I need to save for documentation I simply photocopy it.

My second favorite method of communicating with my parents is via text messaging. If I have a quick question they can quickly respond without disrupting their activities or playing phone tag. Often times they will get a reminder via text message that they might not see on the home note, or in those rare (ha ha ha ha) instances where I forget to note that a student needs personal supplies or snacks until after they leave for the day. Parents text me all the time with questions or for information too. And since I can print transcripts of my text messages I have documentation just in case of misunderstandings or difficult situations. Before texting a parent, however, it is a good idea to make sure it is OK as not all parents have text-friendly cell phone plans. It is also a good idea to let them know that it is OK to text you as well.

I know of other teachers who use Twitter (I'm way too wordy for Twitter--grin!), instant messaging, email, and blogs to communicate with their students' parents.

Checklist-style home notes and text messaging work for me when communicating with parents. What works for you?


  1. I will respond to this one as a parent of a child who is close to "non-verbal". My 10 year old son speaks in single words and has a difficult time recalling things that happened at school. What works for me as a parent is anything that allows me to have a conversation with my son about how his day went. Things like a step-by-step with a recorded message of how the day went or a PECs style communication book where PECs are either velcroed in or checked off outlining some of the happenings of the day. I appreciate the notes, e-mails, texts...etc. that I exchange with my son's teacher but more than anything what works for me as a parent is anything htat allows me to have the conversations that others take for granted :).

  2. We haven't really streamlined this one. I tend to catch up with my son's aide and/or teacher at the end of the day but as he is in mainstream and the only kid w/- disability in the class it isn't quite as difficult. I have asked about home/school comm options but we haven't really found a perfect solution. I was hoping i could find something on the iPhone that could be a good option as he does have one of those, but haven't found it yet - must start looking into that a bit more.

  3. I still marvel that more intensive special needs teachers don't use a customized checklist for home to school notes! I am in a new job where until I began composition notebooks were used. The parents seem to love the new system and a few requested some changes to it (i.e. level of alertness/arousal) to make it work even better. Itinerant therapists and nurses have asked me for copies to take back to their rooms and I direct them to the many, many versions now on adapted learning by many, many people. Thanks for highlighting this important tool. As I said to the parents in my room last night, the more time we save on these kinds of tasks (data collection, note writing, etc.) the more time we TEACH!