When families have concerns about their child, they may come to you, their child’s teacher, for support. They may have recently noticed a behavior that’s out of the ordinary for their child. Or they may have observed a pattern of behaviors over time.
Families may turn to you as they seek out answers. This is especially true if you’ve built a relationship of communication and partnership from the beginning of the school year. This foundation will help families feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with you. How can you make the conversation as supportive and productive as possible?
We asked the Understood Teacher Fellows to share their experiences. Read their stories about how they’ve responded in these situations to support students and families alike. You can also download a one-page printable of sentence starters based on these tips.
Sentence starters for responding to families’ concernsPDF
Answer fromLakrisha Howard, MA
When families come to me with concerns, I take on the mindset of an investigator to really understand what they’re seeing, experiencing, and feeling. I also take time to assure them. I let them know that it’s great they’re asking questions and seeking support early to help their child. As an elementary teacher, I know that early intervention is key.
—Lakrisha Howard, MA, is a first-grade inclusion teacher and new teacher coach in Newark, New Jersey.
Answer fromJen Loescher, MA
When I talk with families, I remember that nonverbal communication can be just as important as verbal. I make sure my body language shows my desire to support their child. For example, I show my willingness to listen by leaning in with my arms uncrossed. I might sit next to the family or in a circle with them. And if I’m feeling stressed due to other events, I try to set those inner feelings aside for the moment. I don’t want the family to misinterpret that stress.
—Jen Loescher, MA, is a regional middle school math trainer in southern Nevada.
Answer fromKimberly Weber, EdD
When families come to me with concerns, I remind them that every child learns and grows at their own rate. I talk about the students’ strengths, acknowledge the family’s concerns, and make a plan to observe and keep in contact. I let them know that by working together we’re going to help their child thrive. I also acknowledge that taking the time to share their concerns with me shows how much they care.
Kimberly Weber, EdD, is a PreK–2 academic intervention teacher in Delaware.
Answer fromBrian Smith, MA
Even though the family initiated the conversation, I know it may be hard for them to discuss their concerns. That’s why I make sure to fill the conversation with as many positives as possible. I share stories about their child, like a fun anecdote, or a time they shined in class. This reassures the family by bringing strengths to the conversation and showing how much I know and care about their child.
I also remember to check in with the family during the conversation. I ask questions like, “Do you have any questions about anything I’ve said?” I remind myself that this is a two-way conversation. I remind myself that it’s a conversation, not a report card.
—Brian Smith, MA, is a kindergarten teacher in Claremont, North Carolina.
Answer fromShira Moskovitz, MA
I thank the family for giving me the information to help their child and acknowledge that they know their child best. We have students for only a few hours a day, so we see just a part of the whole picture. By acknowledging that they are the experts on their kids, I help families trust my expertise as an educator.
—Shira Moskovitz, MA, is a fifth-grade special education inclusion teacher in Sunnyside, New York.
Families aren’t the only ones who initiate these conversations. If you have concerns about a student, find out how to start a conversation with families.
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About the author
About the author
Gretchen Vierstra, MA is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the “In It” podcast. She’s a former educator with experience teaching and designing programs in schools, organizations, and online learning spaces.
Melissa Sandler, MEd is an Understood Teacher Fellow and a third-grade general education teacher, co-teaching a special education inclusion class at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda, Maryland.