The episode of the Truth for Teachers podcast featured here is a free coaching call I conducted with a graduate of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Her name is Kristen, and she’s a year 4 teacher in Australia, which is equivalent to 4th grade in the U.S. You will adore her lovely accent!
Kristen is in her sixth year of teaching and feeling like she’s spending way too much time communicating with parents and answering emails, and also feeling nervous about what cutting back on the amount of time she spends on these things and other tasks might do to her reputation in the school.
Click the player above (or use the download button to listen on the go)!
I talked with Kristen for a good 45 minutes, and what I’m going to share here in the podcast for you is the second half of that conversation where we’re focused on email communication and giving yourself permission to stop correlating hours worked with effectiveness.
The plan of action for Kristen — and probably a good plan of action for you, too — is to focus on pro-active communication and rapport building with parents so that their first interaction with you isn’t when there’s a problem. My recommendation was that she call all of her parents on the first day of school just to make contact. When you only teach one class of students, this shouldn’t take longer than an hour, max, because most parents won’t answer and you’ll be leaving voicemails. It’s an investment of time that will pay off in rapport building later.
We also talked about personalized positive communication that makes a big impact. One suggestion that Kristen really liked is sending a physical postcard to each child’s house. Postcards are pretty rare and special these days, and taking a few minutes to hand write one can make a big impact. So I recommended addressing one to each child in her class and getting all the addresses on there ready to go, and then filling out and mailing one per week.
The idea here is that you’re looking for something you can do that will make an impression on parents, and show that you’re willing to go above and beyond and care about their child, without it being something that you’re committed to doing on a daily basis. Find something that feels special and unusual, but don’t expect yourself to send personalized messages beyond what you can reasonably send in whatever parent-teacher communication app you’re using.
You’ll be listening in on this coaching call right when we’re talking about Kristen’s email communication. One of the principles from the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club that Kristen has utilized successfully is having templates to use when replying to parent emails.
If you use Gmail, check out the canned response feature which will allow you to insert an opening greeting, closing greeting, and also any frequently-used replies. If your school email provider doesn’t have this kind of functionality, that’s okay, you can copy/paste from a Google Doc. The idea is that you’re creating a database of nicely worded responses you can pull from instead of starting from scratch each time. I provide a template like this for club members and Kristen found that was a time-saver for sure.
So let’s jump into the call now right at the place where I’m summarizing what we talked about so far before strategizing on how to reduce the time she spends on emails with parents.
- Call parents on the first day of school, if possible.
- Send some positive communication that’s personalized at least once during the year.
- Use a template/canned response to cut down on email time.
- Handle behavior issues via phone.
- Set office hours for replying to email and messages, preferably at the end of the day.
- Once you’ve established this rapport and a reputation in your school as a devoted, effective teacher, give yourself permission to stop measuring effectiveness by hours worked.
- Release yourself from the pressure to do things only because you’re afraid of what others will think of you if you DON’T do them.
- Stay focused on relationships with kids and families, and don’t worry about how it looks if your car isn’t the last one out of the parking lot at night. When your heart, attitude, and time are clearly focused on what really matters, other people will see that and you don’t have to go out of your way to prove yourself.
- Let your relationships with kids and the learning that happens in your classroom speak for itself.
This post is based on an episode from my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 15-20 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.