As an education paraprofessional you are part of an instructional team. Previous units provided guidance about what that participation involves. In this unit the focus is on communicating with parents.
Sometimes this mission is difficult, and your role as a paraprofessional is to help the instructional team fulfill this difficult mission. Your role in this respect is an important one because, on many teams, the parapro is the one who communicates most often with parents. For example, the parapro may interact with parents who come to the school in the morning to drop off their children or in the afternoon to pick them up. The parapro may live in the same community as parents and may have many occasions to talk with parents informally. This reality presents challenges to your communications with parents.
What should your communication with parents look like?
- It should exhibit the principles of effective communication.
Equally important, it should embody commitments suitable to your role on the instructional team:
Discretion means communicating important information confidentially—sharing it only on a need-to-know-basis. This is a matter of law in education. This commitment is the easiest to master. When it isn’t upheld, it leads to breeches in confidentiality and violates the law. Discretion is the foundation on which the other three commitments must be built.
Dependability means that both your communications with your teacher (or others on the instructional team) and parents need to represent situations accurately (as well as with discretion). Fulfilling this commitment is difficult. It requires practice in perceiving a situation and describing it well, so the details of the situation can be communicated to those not familiar with it. When communication isn’t dependable, the result is often miscommunication and, sometimes, hurt feelings.
Impartiality means that your communications with parents should focus mostly on the situation and not mostly on persons or personality. This commitment is more difficult than the other two, since it builds on but goes beyond dependability—on being able to describe “the situation.” Impartiality requires you to view the situation as an outsider, even when your feelings are involved or your beliefs challenged. Think about a situation such as breaking up a fight between two students. Impartiality asks you to break up the fight and to sanction the students in response to their behavior. But human nature might make any of us be a little gentler on one of the children (for personal reasons). Impartiality, though, requires us to push back against human nature, to distance ourselves from the situation, and to make a fair judgment. The opposite of impartiality is favoritism.
Loyalty in communications with parents builds on impartiality, and it is thus the most difficult of these four commitments. It means framing your communications with parents in line with what you and your teacher, or the instructional team, decides is appropriate to the situation. It means not “going rogue.” In other words, even if you disagree with the decision of your team, you need to uphold it if you are asked to explain the decision to a parent.
Communication with parents thus needs to be part of what your teacher or instructional team plans with you. Of course, not every communication can be planned. But the ground rules for communication with parents can be planned, and the four commitments explained in this unit can help with that planning.