Teacher's Parent Communication Guide: Email

Discussion in 'Teacher Time Out' started by 3Sons, Feb 10, 2011.

  1. 3Sons

    3Sons Connoisseur

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    Feb 10, 2011

    A few suggestions based on what I've seen personally in moderately affluent districts in northern NJ.

    Respond to emails from parents within one business day. If you'll need time to consider or to research an answer, a quick note to this effect is fine. If you review email on a particular day, note this in an autoresponse and give a way to contact you by phone in emergencies. Note that if the emergency contact method is to reach you by phone via the office, you'll have parents in an emotional state calling the office and talking to administrators.

    Always start your emails with a salutation or greeting. "Dear", "Hello", or anything else will work fine. When teachers start emails with simply the parents' name, it appears curt or dismissive. This appears to be a fairly widespread problem, as when I review emails from several years of having multiple children in elementary schools, I see this issue with nearly half. These teachers are often also those with which I've had the most difficulties and who I respect the least.

    Always end with a closing -- "Sincerely", "Best Regards", or anything else -- before your name. Just leaving a name suffers the same issues as starting the email with only the parents' name. Additionally, your name should be either your full name or your last name prefaced by an honorific such as "Mrs." You should not leave off with your first initial and last name, as it appears cold.

    Keep in mind that it's also prudent to proofread your emails.

    If the email is a response to a parent email, ensure that you've addressed everything they raised. In particular, verify that you have answered all direct questions and responded to any clear errors they raise (for example, if you misspelled the child's name in the email, giving a brief apology and excuse (typo, tiredness, etc.) is appropriate).

    If you're claiming in the email that their child did something inappropriate, be sure you have their child's side of the story as well and can express it as completely as possible. If you have previously misstated anything, give a brief apology and correction.

    Avoid defending your actions with assertions of your prerogatives to manage the classroom, teach, or discipline as you see fit, even if such an assertion is entirely accurate. It is highly likely you are correct about your prerogatives, but this is one of the least persuasive and most confrontational points you could raise to a parent. The parent does not want to know that you have the right to do something, they want to know that whatever you're doing is a good idea.

    Many teachers follow the positive->negative->suggestions->end on hopeful note agenda for parent communications. While most parents will likely be aware that this structured approach is somewhat artificial, it remains a good format. To make the best use of it, however, it's best to prepare the parent with previous contacts that are entirely or almost entirely positive. For some students, you might want to make sure you get this contact done quickly, before they have a chance to do something negative you will need to bring to the parents. It also may be helpful to pretend you're following the standard communications format, but leaving out the "negatives". The suggestions make the areas to work on clear, anyway.
     
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  3. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    Feb 10, 2011

    I don't know why you put this in time out section because it is good advice for the general education section. Good post.

    I also want to add that particularly the younger you teach and children you might need more support with later, send positive emails often early in the year so parents realize you see THEIR child as important and view them as an individual. Parents care more about their child than the whole class. It's okay to use whole class procedures in your defense but do so sparingly because their interest really lies in their own child, not everyone else.
     
  4. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    Feb 10, 2011

    I can't agree more that emails should be answered quickly. It is very rare I do not repond the same day even if the messages are sent at night. As far as closing emails, I have a signature with my full name, school, grade, and subject, but once you begin an "email conversation" it no longer displays itself. I then just sign my first name. I see absolutely no problem with that and in fact I prefer that opposed to Mrs. JustMe when communicating with parents.
     
  5. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Feb 10, 2011

    Excellent advice! I agree that this should be moved to the Gen Ed forum so that more people will look at it.

    Can I offer a few more?

    Re-read what you send before you send it. That sounds obvious, I know, but it's still something you should do. Sometimes it's easy to write when we are emotional and we end up saying things that we might not say upon further reflection.

    Sometimes in emails less is more. Of course it's important to address everything that needs to be addressed, but it's also important to be concise. There's no need to repeat yourself for emphasis or any other reason. You're not sending a book.

    Avoid typing in all caps whenever possible, even for emphasis. It seems rude.

    Don't mention other students by name in an email. It's okay to say "another student".

    When in doubt, ask a colleague to read what you're planning to send before you send it. A colleague with no prior knowledge about a kid or situation will be able to read your email objectively and help you avoid an unpleasant situation.

    Remember that anything you write can be brought to the attention of the principal, and it will be brought to the principal's attention if the parent thinks that you were rude or unprofessional. Your best defense in this case is to be polite, professional, and to the point so that the parent never has any reason to bring a complaint against you.
     
  6. math1abee

    math1abee Companion

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    Feb 10, 2011

    These are wonderful suggestions and ultimately just good email etiquette. With the huge advancement of technology we often use shortcuts when talking to people through emails or text messages that we would never use when speaking face to face and sometimes these shortcuts can come off as very cold.

    Thanks for the refresher!
     
  7. SwOcean Gal

    SwOcean Gal Devotee

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    Feb 10, 2011

    This is great info and def one to review and look back on. Very helpful!

    About signing the e-mail though with a full name or honorific- I am not sure about that. In an etiquette class for teachers, we were taught never to give yourself an honorific- it is something others call you or give you. Newsletters and class notes home I sign my name as First and Last Name, on e-mails typically the parents communicating with me have been doing so since the beginning and sign it as their first name- so I reply as first name because that is who they addressed it to. If they address it to Honorific Last Name- I just sign it first name without an honorific because of that course I had.
     
  8. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    Feb 10, 2011

    Ocean, I feel it can be a little...much?...to sign emails as Mrs. JustMe. I mean, these parents are older than I am and I feel almost rude signing it with the honorific.
     
  9. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Feb 10, 2011

    From the parent's side of things...

    I would prefer you sign your emails Mrs. Justme or your full first and last names. My child, the whole reason we are communicating, calls you Mrs. Justme. That's how I know you, so it's okay to sign your emails that way. Also, just a first name seems far to casual to me. You go down about 12 notches on my personal professionalism meter if you automatically assume I am close enough to you to be on a first name basis. Of course, if my child calls you by your first name (which I would not like, but there are schools that use first names), then sign your emails with your first name. Other than that, no, I don't like it at all.
     
  10. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    Feb 10, 2011

    Twelve notches, huh? That's interesting. Many parents address me (and other teachers) by their first name. I've noticed not so much in person but through email. After the initial email with my "official signature", I feel perfectly fine using my first name in subsequent "grouped" messages.
     
  11. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Yes, because using your first name implies a casualness and a closeness that simply isn't there. I very much prefer communications with my children's schools to stay formal. They are their teachers, not their friends, and not my friends either. To me, it seems presumptuous. I don't like it at all.

    Another thing to consider: I sign emails to teachers Ms. Lastname. That should be a hint to teachers that I prefer to keep things formal. If other parents sign emails with their first names, then they're obviously okay with the first name thing. Part of being effective in a very public role is to be able to read people and respond to their individual needs. My youngest son's teacher this year is a master at that. I've heard other parents use her first name, and she uses their first names, but she's never addressed me by anything other than my last name, nor I her. She realized early on what my preference was, and she respects those preferences. As a result, I hold her in very high esteem.
     
  12. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    Feb 10, 2011

    I don't think using a first name necessarily implies a closeness. I think back to times I've contacted various professionals from loan officers to the business I'm having do our taxes this year...they used their first names and I didn't feel as though they were being unprofessional in the least. Of course, you have a need for formality and I don't whatsoever, so...

    I think it's too bad you would think poorly of me (dropping twelve notches, that is) because in an email conversation I sign my first time after having already used my complete signature on the initial email.
     
  13. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Feb 10, 2011

    My notches are fairly small...and I said on the professionalism scale, not as a person.

    That said, would you use your first name with a parent who's never actually told you what her first name was? The only reason my kids' teachers would even know what my first name is, is because it's on their paperwork. I'm pretty rigid about it. I do feel like first names imply closeness. I do not like to use first names in professional environments. I always use last names until I'm specifically told otherwise, and even then, I don't like it.
     
  14. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Feb 10, 2011

    I respond promptly to parent emails but keep my messages short. Any written communication regarding a student can be considered part of that student's record...sometimes your better off with a quick phone call.
     
  15. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    Feb 10, 2011

    Well, I would likely already know their first name, but yes. But, as I said in my first post, I'm talking in emails here, and I'm talking about a series of emails where they're all attached and the initial email has my complete information. I wouldn't call home to discuss an issue with "Hi, this is Laura" or "Hello, this is Laura from Blank Middle School". I'm not Laura, but we'll go with that. :)

    I just opened my school email to find an example.

    Okay, so a few days ago I sent an email to parents reminding them about shirt order forms being due. The automatic signature was three lines: full name, school name, subject and grade. A parent replied to that email using my first name. "Laura, Becca had her order form to get a ---- t-shirt and she forgot to turn it in. Can she still order one? She would need an adult large. She has a check in her homework folder." It contains her automatic signature which is also three lines: full name, department, phone number. I respond that it won't be a problem, discuss something else, and then, because in these email threads your signature is only on the initial email, end with

    —Laura

    If someone wants to knock me several notches down the professional ladder for that, I have bigger fish to fry to be perfectly honest. I respect your opinion, of course. Thankfully I don't think many of my parents would be offended.
     
  16. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Wow. I don't even know how to respond to that. That's beyond unprofessional. You would really show that little respect to a parent?
     
  17. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Feb 10, 2011

    Most of my emails end like this:

    Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. Have a great day!

    Mrs. Caesar MyName
    Subject
    Other pertinent school info


    Everything beginning with the "Mrs." part is my signature.

    I don't believe that I've ever had a parent address me by my first name. They've always called me either "Mrs. MyName" or simply "Teacher" (the cultural norm around these parts). I honestly think it would feel very weird if they started calling me "Caesar". I think it does imply a closeness that just doesn't exist in the parent-student-teacher relationship.

    I don't address parents by their first names, either. If I know their last name, I'll call them "Mr./Ms. WhateverTheirLastNameIs". Since the overwhelming majority of my students have last names different from their parents, usually I address the parent as "Student's Mom/Dad". Like, I'll enter a parent conference and say, "Hello, are you Martha's mom? I'm Caesar MyName, the Latin teacher."
     
  18. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Fanatic

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    Feb 11, 2011

    I think this may be very regional, and it's not about respect. There are several parents with whom I communicate in simple 1-2 sentence emails on a regular basis, signing my whole name and eventually just my first name. Miss Manners says that's fine for ongoing e-mail conversations, or for quick emails that are more like memos, and that's good enough for me!

    When all of my parents manage to master perfect email etiquette, I'll work on being super-formal in my emails. It's just not expected in my district. Professional, yes. With no spelling or grammar errors, curse words, etc. But not super formal. I think it's a regional/cultural thing.
     
  19. ally06

    ally06 Companion

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    Feb 11, 2011

    What was disrespectful about JustMe's email?
    I start by addressing parents by their titles but I get to know most of them pretty well over the year and end up calling most of them by their first names - and they use mine as well. Short notes I will often sign with my first name.
    I am in an environment, though, where this is the norm and I have a very good relationship with most parents. I will often stop and have a chat to parents of children I have previously taught. I realise not all school environments are like this though, but it works for me :)
     
  20. JustMe

    JustMe Guru

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    This is ridiculous. By signing by my first name—which is exactly who she addressed her email to—I'm being terribly disrespectful?

    Note, I've said before and I have not indicated otherwise here that I use titles for my parents. This isn't about how I address them.

    I'm amazed.

    :dizzy:
     
  21. SwOcean Gal

    SwOcean Gal Devotee

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    Feb 11, 2011

    What about when the parents are in the midst of a divorce- what do you call the child's mother, whom you have been communicating with since the beginning of school? She signs the e-mail with her first name, so I address it to her first name because who knows how she feels about Mrs. Last name at this point in a seemingly rough situation. We are at the point of daily updates now. So what would you do here? I mean Mrs Last name is still her name and the name of her children, but with her signing her name as first name- I took it to mean (in my mind I read it as) that is what she wants me to call her not Mrs. Last name.
    All of my other parent's sign their e-mails and notes to me as first name, so I generally respond in kind. If they were to write Mrs Last name or whatever, I would respond that way to them, but I still would not give myself an honorific. Perhaps, though I should be using first and last name I never really thought of it. I was thinking more along the lines of the parents already know my name. If they call themselves Mrs last name I will call them that, I have no problem calling them whatever they want me to.

    I guess I am with Just Me- that is exactly how I do it. They sign first name, I address first name, they address me as first name, I reply in kind. They address Mrs Last name- again I don't do the honorific for myself.
     

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