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Communicate better to understand each other

How can we prevent written communications between school and families from generating stress, frustrations and incomprehension, both for the worker and for the parent, and altering the parent-child-worker relationship? Today we offer tips to facilitate email communications.

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By Annik De Celles, director at Septembre éditeur, former teacher and author

Tips for facilitating email communications between parents and school counselors

Since the start of the pandemic, parents have used the school portal, emails or any other communication tool related to their child's school life almost daily. Whether it is to inform the teacher of the absence of the youngest child, or to ask for support for the older one, informative written communications are becoming more and more important. School workers are also spending more and more time writing e-mails and informative documents, so parents have more reading to do.

Written communications unfortunately sometimes generate stress, frustrations and incomprehension, as much for the worker as for the parent, and can alter the parent-child-worker relationship. 

5 things to keep in mind to communicate effectively

A school team is made up of different people, with very different tasks and skills. Individuals' reading and writing skills can also be found at different levels, as can your own language skills. This is absolutely normal and you should not limit your communications for fear of making mistakes. 

1. Simplicity and clarity

According to Literacy Foundation, “Less than one in two people (46.8 %) in Quebec is likely to demonstrate mastery of literacy skills making them capable of reading in order to learn, understand, act or intervene in any autonomy. "

Tips for schools

  • Opt for short and clear messages.
  • Choose a simple vocabulary.
  • Present a list of items rather than writing a long text.

2. Language and culture

Cultural differences also apply to the ways of communicating. In addition to differences in language, accent and vocabulary, the communication style varies from culture to culture. Expressions can also vary.

Tips for schools and the parents

  • Give priority to email exchanges in order to facilitate the use of online translation tools.
  • Use action verbs to specify the actions expected of the worker, the teacher, the principal or the parents.
  • Asking questions in a respectful tone if the message is not clear, avoiding inferences or generalizations will promote understanding.
  • Other cultural elements could interfere with the good understanding of your communications such as: the vision of authority or parental role, tolerance for uncertainty, social fabric, relationship to time, etc. It is important to take the time to build relationships with stakeholders in order to fully understand each other. 

3. School experience

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey :

  • 14.2 % of the population does not have any educational qualifications. 
  • 40 % of the population has a high school diploma or a trades diploma. 
  • 45.8 % of the population has graduated from college or university.

The vision and understanding of the school world varies from one individual to another. Your academic progress, your personal experience (vision of success, motivation, learning difficulties, etc.) can have a great impact on your openness and your understanding of the messages received from school.

Tips for parents

  • Ask to specify the terms of school jargon used if you are not familiar with certain terms used by the school team.
  • When a task seems complex to you, you can ask your child to explain what to do. If the email covers other aspects, ask the facilitator to clarify. You may not be the only parent who has not understood correctly, so the teacher can rephrase for all parents. 
  • Sometimes we can interpret emotions in an email (aggressive, reactionary, indifferent, or too positive) or misinterpret certain words. If in doubt, request a telephone or videoconference meeting so that the communication is clearer.

4. Physical, mental health and other difficulties

Loss of employment, illness, physical disability, difficult family situation, as a parent we all live with realities or difficult times that can affect our patience, our openness and alter our ability to understand the messages received, or to express our needs and those of our children. 

Tips for parents

  • Share or explain your situation and your issues to the school resources concerned. Your life has an impact on that of your child; knowing the reality of a student allows the school to better support him.
  • School staff also experience personal challenges and situations that can impact their communication and understanding. Be kind and empathetic to them.

5. Technological capabilities

Skills with technology also differ from person to person. You may feel more or less comfortable with some of the tools used.

Tips for parents

  • Having trouble opening attachments to teacher's emails? Ask if a printed copy can be given to your child. 
  • Are you being asked to use certain videoconferencing or document sharing platforms that you do not know? Search for tutorial-type videos or ask the teacher to provide a short guide to using these tools.

Advice for parents

  • The school team will appreciate being informed in advance of any change, appointment or element that will have an impact on your child's schedule.
  • Teachers and members of the school team receive a very large number of messages. Make it easy for them by getting straight to the point in your communications and including only the essential information.
  • To maintain good communication channels, the ideal is to consult the portal daily and respond to any message that requires your attention as soon as possible.

In addition, Carrefour education offers you its thematic guide Parents and teachers: for a bond throughout the year!

References

  • Boutin, M. (2019). Develop a taste for cultural diversity, Work option, September editor.
  • Statistics Canada. (2020, June 10). Labor Force Survey 2015, special compilation, adapted by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, Database of official statistics on Quebec.

Dimension (s) of digital competence related to this article

6- Communicate using digital technology

To see the Framework.

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