Wednesday, February 26, 2014

8 Tips to Improve Parent Communication

Parent communication, the bane of every teacher's existence, or so they think!  Parent communication is the number one most effective tool to help students succeed in school.  

When tutoring, it is imperative that you keep consistent communication with your clients, the parents!  Always remember when tutoring, THE PARENT is your client, they search for you, hire you, pay you, and fire you!  Here are some tips to help with client communication.

1. Have a contract

Have a typed-up contract with rules, policies, guidelines, and expectations to give to your parents and students to sign the first time you speak with them.  They should also be clearly posted on your website.  Make sure your contract aligns with your state’s laws.  Follow through with your policies EVERY TIME.  If you want to give a one-time grace for cancelling last minute, write it into your policy!!  Otherwise your client may think they can take advantage of you and will get mad the next time if you don’t give them a grace.

2. Leave time within your sessions for parent communication.

Make sure this is written into your contract.  I like to leave the first or last five – fifteen minutes of a tutoring session for parent communication.  So technically the full session ends up running from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  If the parent isn’t there I call immediately after the tutoring session to update them.  I charge for the full time because parent communication is consultation and takes my time and professional knowledge.  I do not charge if I call a parent during the week or send an email.  If a parent calls or sends an email to me regarding specific questions to their students tutoring or progress, I reply with “Let’s talk more about this before/after student’s appointment on Wednesday.”

3. Always contact them first and keep your word.

NEVER leave a parent wondering if you are going to show up the day of a tutoring session.  Text or call your clients every morning to confirm their appointment.  I usually write, “Hi (parent’s name)! Texting to confirm tutoring with (student’s name) tonight from 5:00 to 6:00 at (location).”  If I need to reschedule an appointment, I always call the parent as far in advance as possible and then also text or email them a reminder either that day or the next day so you have proof that you told them.  If you miss a session or show up late, count on losing that client and any clients they would have referred.

4. Listen to their concerns.

Most parents who are seeking tutoring are not heard when it comes to concerns about their child.  This makes it even more important that they feel heard by you.  Repeat their concerns back to them in your own words to clarify and also write concerns on a contract or a long-term lesson plan and make sure they have a copy.  If the parents concerns are unfounded, or incorrect (example: Parent thinks Suzy needs help in Algebra with polynomials, but she really doesn’t know her multiplication tables and that is causing most of the problems) gently steer them in the right direction with an in-depth and appropriate explanation.  Make sure you make it clear and concise so they can understand what you are talking about. 

However, listening to their concerns DOES NOT mean letting them call the shots.  You are the professional; you listen to their concerns and make a professional decision regarding their student.  If they do not like your decision, listen to their concerns.  If there is no agreeing, it may be time to look at number 8.

5. Be sure they know you are on the same team.

As a teacher I had many defensive parents come to me and ask me why I’m failing their kid, or torturing them with homework, or whatever their complaint was that day.  These poor parents have students who go home and whine to them more than they whine to the teachers!  And many of these parents have been lied to by their little angel who would NEVER EVER lie because they taught them better than that.  Don’t let yourself get caught up emotionally.  Explain to them that you are both trying to help their child become proficient in math (or whatever the goal is).  And that is why you have made the professional decision that you’ve made.

6. Don't feel as if you need to answer immediately.

If you aren’t sure about something, are emotional, or if the parent is emotional, defer the conversation to a later date so you or the parent can be more prepared.  Schedule a meeting either over the phone or in person to discuss the issue.  I generally don’t charge for meetings.

7. Explanation IS NECESSARY.

The parent is your client, they pay your bills, and you do owe them an explanation ANY time they ask for it.  Schedule a meeting or explain in depth after a tutoring session.  Even if a client does not ask for explanation, I usually explain what we’ve done each session and why and how their student is improving.  It makes a big difference with client retention.

8. Don't be afraid to lose a client if it isn't worth it.

If you’ve tried tips 1-7 and you just can’t get through to the parent, it may be time to stop working with the client.  Not everyone is compatible and you have to pick your battles to win the war.

Tutors: What are your fail-safe tips for dealing with parents?

1 comment:

  1. Candice,

    Thanks for posting this. It's always difficult to strike a balance between being easygoing and friendly (which smooths the week to week communication with clients), and being firm enough with policies not to get taken advantage of.

    I forget where I heard this, but it was something like - "it's impossible to over-communicate with freelancing clients." So your tip about the session reminders is a really good one.