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Mel Gravely

Communication Methods that Work with Head Start Parents

It cannot be put any clearer than this: Parents are the gateway to their child’s education.

Although you cannot demand parents become involved in their child’s education, as an educator of young children, you can foster parental involvement by following a few simple, common-sense communication strategies that have existed since the dawn of spoken language. While technology such as texting and email can help facilitate communication, the way you communicate is typically more important than the medium you use.

Make it Personal from Day One

Start on the first day by introducing yourself, share a personal story, and the aspirations you have for the children enrolled in your program. Present every parent with a folder that contains information about the Head Start program, and how it differs from other preschool programs. Also, be sure to give your direct contact information if they have any questions.

Most importantly, be sure to ask parents plenty of questions about themselves. It’s human nature to love talking about yourself and your children. A couple leading questions like “what does your child like to do for fun?” or “do they like to dance?” can set a parent at ease and lay the foundation for trusting relationship that you can build on.

Above all, talk with parents; do not talk at them.

Active Listening

Once you establish an open line of communication with parents on day one, you need to employ a few timeless communication techniques to make subsequent communications beneficial for you and the parents you meet. By communication skills, we are not referring to how you talk and write.

We are talking about how well you listen.

Active listening skills receive little attention when it comes to discussing communication skills.  However, by actively listening to the parents of the children in your classroom, you do much more communicating than by simply dominating a conversation with your thoughts.

When you sit down with parents on day one, you have to convey the unspoken message that you are going to give 100% attention to what each parent has to say. This means clearing your calendar of any distractions and making sure no one disturbs a parental meeting, whether the meeting lasts five minutes or exceeds one hour.

Most importantly, ask questions to clarify the points emphasized by parents, as well as to ensure the parents you meet with understand that you understand what they are trying to say.

Body language is the key to make parents feel extraordinary, without you having to say much at all. Smiling, nodding your head, and demonstrating good posture are all non-verbal cues that you are actively engaged in a conversation.

Set Higher Expectations for Parents

A Head Start parent may have had a rough go at life. No one may have expected much from them before, whether it was good grades, a good job, or even graduating high school. However, many WANT the opportunity to be able show their potential. Set higher expectations for parents, and they just might surprise you.

As an example, instead of using passive language when asking them to be a part of the program, use active language as if they were already there.

Instead of, “Would you be interested in being a part of our policy council?”

Try something like, “As a member of our policy council, you set the direction of our program and make decisions that affect everyone.”

By using these timeless communications strategies – making it personal, active listening, and setting higher expectations – you can help break down some of the barriers that parents put up, and hopefully open up a lifelong desire to engage with their child’s educational journey.

What kinds of communication techniques do you use when talking with parents? What works? What doesn’t? We always love to hear your comments!


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