One of the greatest challenges I've faced in my time as a librarian is coming up with creative ways to keep in touch with the parents of my students. Research has proven time and time again that family involvement is essential for school success, but it's often difficult to communicate with parents effectively since I only see my students a couple of times each week (and I work with the entire student body).
There are many reasons why it's a good idea for the school librarian to maintain contact with parents. First, regular communication makes families aware of the variety of services the school library offers. If parents know about the library's services, their children are more likely to use them. Also, it encourages reading outside of school, which is always a good thing!
On a slightly more practical note, when parents have a relationship with me, they are more likely to encourage things like timely return of books and participation in the AR program. I've found that it makes a big difference when I have personally explained the AR program instead of expecting each parent to know what it is automatically.
This week I realized I have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to communicating with parents. At a recent family reading event, several parents asked me how to find out if books are Accelerated Reader books. Others wanted to know how to use some of the library's electronic resources at home. My initial thought was, "I sent a note home about that not too long ago!" In reality, I sent a newsletter home several months ago, and the parent who was asking about it has a Kindergarten child. With as many things that get sent home on a day-to-day basis, I can totally understand how a library newsletter might get lost in the shuffle. The moral of this story is: communicate with parents several times each year, and reiterate those messages throughout the year in case they were overlooked the first time.
Here are a few ideas for improving your communication with parents, even when you spend your workdays in a flurry of teaching, checking out books, and talking to teachers:
1. Take advantage of Open House and Parent/Teacher Conferences.
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce yourself to parents, explain your role in the educational process, and hand out informational materials about the library. Host an orientation session to familiarize Kindergarten (or other) parents with your reading incentive program and electronic resources they can use at home. Conferences later in the year also provide an opportunity to touch base with parents you might not have met at Open House, especially if you have questions or concerns about certain students.
2. Make sure your library's website is easy to access and navigate.
With so much of today's communication happening online, it will be easier for many parents to learn about the library by visiting its website. Check your school's site; does the homepage have a clear link to the library page? Does the library page contain information about upcoming events? Is your contact information available in case parents need to get in touch with you?
3. Give parents something to help them remember you.
Depending on your school's budget, it probably isn't possible to hand out things like library t-shirts or notebooks to every student and parent. However, you could look at affordable alternatives such as a logo sticker, a magnet, or a personalized pen to use as giveaways, all with reminders of your library's web address or electronic resource login information. Anything that reminds your students and their families of the library will help keep the lines of communication open.
4. Return emails and phone calls in a timely manner.
This should go without saying, but we all know how difficult it can be to make time for emails or phone calls during the school day. Take a few minutes each day to check for messages and send a quick response. If you know that a particular parent concern might take awhile to resolve, consider setting up a meeting after school or during your planning time. When parents realize you're available, they will be more likely to reach out.
These suggestions will go a long way in helping you communicate with parents in a way that benefits both you and your students. The most important thing is maintaining a welcoming attitude, as well as making it clear that you want to hear from parents and will make yourself available to them.
What steps have you taken to communicate effectively with parents? What would you add to this list?