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Old 02-10-2011, 11:54 AM
3Sons 3Sons is offline
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Teacher's Parent Communication Guide: Email

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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Old 02-10-2011, 12:12 PM
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cutNglue cutNglue is offline
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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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 12:18 PM
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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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 12:35 PM
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Caesar753 Caesar753 is offline
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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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 12:53 PM
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math1abee math1abee is offline
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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!
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:56 PM
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SwOcean Gal SwOcean Gal is offline
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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.
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  #7  
Old 02-10-2011, 08:03 PM
JustMe JustMe is offline
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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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 08:34 PM
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mmswm mmswm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JustMe View Post
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.
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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 09:01 PM
JustMe JustMe is offline
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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.
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Old 02-10-2011, 09:10 PM
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mmswm mmswm is offline
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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.
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