Communication for Success

Ever had a tough moment with a student and worried about whether or how to loop in their parents?  But now think about all the fabulous moments you’ve had with students. Have you told parents about those moments either? In March, the Jewish Placemaking Accelerator participants took a hard look at parent communication – why it’s important, how to do it well, and what makes it difficult.

We started off with everyone sharing some of those difficult moments we’ve had with our students’ parents. We’ve all been there. Those moments are hard! They can feel discouraging and stressful as we try our hardest to do right by our students and their families. Beverly and I  presented three examples of parent communication that we think lessen those tough moments and make them easier to handle. We explained our goals for each of those kinds of communication, presented a role play example of what it might look like, and then brainstormed together when and how that communication can happen and by whom.

The first is communicating around class content. Doing this well allows parents to be in the learning with their kids, to be interpreters of Jewish wisdom for their own families, and to feel invited to continue their own Jewish learning. Hopefully it sets both kids and parents up to continue content-related conversations at home and take some real ownership over how that content applies to their lives. Sharing about content could look like a weekly blog, a family learning moment at Shabbat services, texting or chatting with parents at pickup time after each class, cumulative unit showcases, and more.

The second kind of communication is around moments of success with a child. Did a student ask a good question? Share a neat insight? Offer a particular kindness to a friend? Go above and beyond with cleanup help? Tell their grownups! This is vital for building relationships with the student’s family, helping kids and parents feel seen and heard, and allowing parents to see their kids shine (which they might not get elsewhere). It also allows us to highlight our community values as they come across in kiddo behavior. Communicating these moments happens best face to face, or over text, email, or a phone call home.

The third kind of important communication with parents is collaborative problem solving. Some difficult student moments and behaviors are totally manageable within the framework of a particular class. Sometimes they’re indicative of wider patterns or deeper difficulties that affect other facets of a kiddo’s life besides their time in a classroom. Collaborative problem solving also does the important work of relationship building with parents, helping parents and kids feel seen and heard, getting all the perspectives available on a behavior or difficulty, digging for unmet needs or lagging skills, and making sure that as many environments as possible are approaching those skills in the same way.

In order for collaborative problem solving to work effectively, it relies on a good relationship between the educator, school, or director and the parent and child. Here’s how it works:

  1. Name some wonderful things about the kiddo. This shows that you see the student as a whole person not just a specific difficult behavior or a “problem.”
  2. Explain the behavior you’re seeing without judgements or value statements.
  3. LISTEN. Ask if the parents are familiar with this behavior, when they’ve noticed it, what they think might be going on, what strategies they’ve used or recommend.
  4. After doing a lot of listening, work together to come up with a plan. Be sure to have an idea for looping the student into the plan or involving them in the process of creating the plan in the first place.

After talking through all those examples, it was time to practice! We split participants up into small groups or pairs and invited them to choose a kind of communication and an example from their teaching experience to role play through. Afterwards, folks came back to share some of their takeaways.

  • Celebrating wins isn’t dependent on parents reciprocating our excitement.
  • “Is there something at home you use for problem solving” is really helpful language to guide these conversations.

We’re winding down the school year with just one seminar left to go! Getting excited for a deep dive into non-violent communication and social emotional and spiritual learning. 

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