- Identify the types of information that should be communicated to families.
- Describe the methods of communicating information to families.
Communication is at the core of relationships. The giving and receiving of information benefits everyone. For your program to run smoothly, you rely on families to share information with you and your staff. In turn, they count on you to keep them informed about their children. Communicating effectively with families helps ensure safety, leads to program engagement, supports school readiness and success, and helps with continuous improvement in your program.
Program Policies and Procedures
Communicating your program’s policies and procedures effectively with families helps everyone be on the same page and keeps children safe and healthy. Each program must consider addressing new media and its use. Check your program’s policies for more specifics. Make sure families receive a thorough orientation to the program and an up-to-date family handbook. These are two strategies for ensuring everyone has the information they need.
Think of a time when you had to apply for something, such as a school or a job. It’s likely that you felt excited—but also a little nervous. New families will likely have similar feelings. Whether the family is enrolling a 6-week-old infant or a 4-year-old who has already attended childcare, they will need time to get to know the program, staff, and policies. This is true even if they have already been through the process with other children. Each new program experience is unique and brings with it possible anxiety and lots of paperwork. As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that new families get the information they need in a manner that minimizes their stress and increases their confidence in the choice they made to enroll their children at your program.
Providing families with a thorough orientation will inform them of your program’s policies and procedures. Your orientation process should include an enrollment packet, a tour of the program during which you can share your program’s philosophy, and an introduction to the staff members who will interact with the family’s child. After their initial meeting with you, you should encourage the family to accompany the child for another visit if possible. This way, the child can spend some time in their classroom before their first day in care. The more front-end work that you do, the easier the transition into care will be for everyone. Here are a few helpful hints when it comes to family orientations:
- Create a New Family Orientation Plan that includes plans for before, during, and after the children’s enrollment.
- Create a New Family Orientation Checklist that simplifies the enrollment process for families by identifying the items that need to be completed and their due dates.
- Involve program staff to carry out specific tasks. This helps families get to know more staff members than just their child’s teacher and builds leadership capability in your staff.
- Have families complete as much enrollment information while they are on site as possible, as this reduces the administrative burden of having to “chase” paperwork.
- Consider creating a Getting to Know Us video for your program or classrooms. This is a great way for families and their children to know what to expect as they transition into care. Below is one example.
Supervise & Support
It is also important to work closely with staff and families to ensure that you are doing all you can to support families. Work with your team to develop a system for families to provide feedback on policies and procedures. Examples include suggestion boxes, formal meetings, etc.
One of the best resources for families is an up-to-date family handbook. When it comes to policies and procedures, the best way to minimize misunderstandings is to put everything in writing and provide people with plenty of notice for changes. Check to see if your program has specific guidelines for developing a family handbook. Here are some guidelines when it comes to creating and updating family handbooks:
- Families should be given a handbook during their orientation. Spending time going through the handbook is time well spent.
- Organize it in a logical way so families can easily find what they are looking for. For example, have a section titled Communicable Disease. In that section have your program’s exclusion and return policy along with what to do if there is an outbreak in their child’s classroom and sample forms that might be required.
- Make the handbook easy to read by removing jargon and using bullet points when possible.
- Create inserts that can be edited yearly or as needed. Include a yearly schedule of key events, making sure to highlight dates when the program will be closed so families can make alternative care arrangements. Also include a list of staff contact information organized by role.
- Include a section for community resources and supports if that information is not provided by other systems of family support in your program.
- Translate the family handbook into languages commonly spoken by families in your community.
There are several ways to update family handbooks. It can be helpful to date the handbook to keep track of the latest changes. To minimize updating, you can keep information that changes often in a separate section. You can bundle revisions together to minimize the cost of reprinting and then update once or twice a year. Families should always be notified in writing of upcoming changes. If the answers to families’ questions are not currently addressed in your handbook, keep these questions to include the next time you revise.
In addition to handbooks, having dedicated places specifically for family information, such as family bulletin boards, can help keep families informed. Delegate the responsibility of managing the information on family boards to staff members. Here are a few helpful hints when it comes to family boards:
- Create family boards for every classroom and in locations where families congregate. In school-age programs, there should usually be one board per activity room (if appropriate) and a communal board in the lobby of the facility. If you keep family boards in each activity room, you and your team must be diligent about updating the boards.
- There are usually two types of information that get posted. One type is health and safety information, such as evacuation plans, which have a permanent spot on the parent board. The other type of information is time-sensitive information such as a flier announcing an upcoming family night.
- Delegate responsibility for updating the boards. Check regularly to make sure the information posted is current. Once something has expired, such as an event, it should be removed.
- Make sure the information on the board is easy to read, doesn’t include jargon or unfamiliar acronyms, and displayed in an eye-catching manner. Look for torn paper, faded colors, and cluttered displays.
- Make sure the information is portrayed in a positive and inclusive manner. Ask yourself, “What is this board communicating?” It should truly welcome families and avoid postings that might alienate families such as threats to disenroll if payments are not received by a certain date.
- Include information in families’ home languages.
Check to see if your program has specific guidelines for developing family handbooks and family bulletin boards.
When families have good relationships with you and your staff, they are more likely to get involved. A family’s engagement at your program benefits their children, program staff, and themselves. In addition, using input and feedback from families strengthens your program’s continuous-improvement efforts. While this topic was covered in the Family Engagement course, it’s important to note how effective communication promotes family engagement. Here are a few important things to remember when it comes to promoting family engagement:
- Families want to be involved, so offer a variety of ways for them to participate.
- Encourage families to become part of your program’s parent-advisory board. If families are unable to join the advisory board, offer them alternative ways to share their ideas and recommendations.
- Put up a suggestion box. Anonymity encourages people to share their true feelings.
- Have regularly scheduled family meetings or events.
- Create a newsletter and encourage families to contribute by writing stories or articles.
- Meet and greet families by name at arrival and departure times. In order to know what’s happening in your program, you need to move about the program and engage with staff, children, and families.
Communicating to Share Children’s Successes
Families count on you and your staff to prepare their children for success and to keep them informed of their children’s progress. Success looks different depending on a child’s age. When an infant reaches for a caregiver and is willing to leave his or her parent’s arms; that is success. When a toddler refrains from hitting a friend and instead uses words; that is success. When a preschooler can write the first letter of his or her name and is proud of their accomplishment; that is success. When a school-ager asks for assistance on homework; that is success.
Families should be aware of their child’s progress in all developmental domains. Here are some ways your program can communicate about school readiness and success:
- Make sure staff acknowledge every family at arrival and departure.
- Communicate developmental milestone information with families so they know what to expect and when. Do this at the beginning of the year or as new children are enrolled. If there are concerns about a child’s development, communicate specific information and resources to families.
- For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, create portfolios for all children that include observations, work samples, and photos that are dated and collected throughout the year. For all children, regardless of age, notes home need to be personalized and individualized as much as possible. If families read the same information day in and day out, they are less likely to continue reading. If staff members are able to include a photo once in a while, the note will be even more interesting. Notes should also be written in the family's home language if possible.
- The frequency and content of notes home is age-specific. For infants and toddlers notes should go home daily, and the frequency can decrease as children get older. You need to check occasionally to make sure notes are going home as intended. Check your program’s policy regarding the frequency that notes should be sent home.
- Train staff on what is appropriate to communicate in notes. Some staff members may not be comfortable communicating in writing and may need additional coaching when it comes to tone and content.
- Schedule conferences regularly to share progress, not concerns. If there are developmental or behavioral concerns, you should communicate these concerns to families prior to the conference. This is not a time for surprises. Check your program’s policy regarding the frequency of family conferences.
- Provide families with ample notice when it comes to transitions.
There are many ways to strengthen the home-school connection. Hear from a parent as she describes how important this two-way communication was to her family.
Families are your partners, and your program is stronger as a result of this partnership. You and your staff convey this belief in your daily interactions and through your written communication. It is your responsibility to ensure that all staff members are prepared to welcome families. Have all front desk staff members completed customer service training? Are they friendly and welcoming? Do they greet families by name? Open and respectful communication empowers families to be in charge of their child’s care, which promotes children’s school readiness and success.
Conflict between staff and families can develop as a result of unmet expectations. Families expect a lot from your program. By anticipating potential issues and communicating proactively, you can often eliminate conflict. In Addressing Family Concerns, review the list of common sources of conflict and reflect on common concerns that families have expressed at your program. You can use this information to make a list of concerns and note how they should be addressed during orientation and in your family handbook.
Creating a Welcome Book for families can be a way to compliment the formal parent handbook they receive and offer an additional opportunity to introduce families to the program. This book could be placed in the lobby of the program, provided electronically, or sent home with new families. Consider presenting the information through the eyes of a child or school-age youth in an effort to further demonstrate that your program is a place where children’s ideas are valued. Use the Family Welcome Book activity to develop a resource you could share with families. As an alternative, you can use the attachment as an inspiration for developing a bulletin board that welcomes families and shares information about new staff and/or the program.
It can be helpful to ask families about their communication preferences. Share the Family Communication Sheet with staff members and encourage them to gather the information from families. You can help staff members make family preferences a priority in their work.
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