Thoughtful communication is a must, but especially at the beginning of the school year. Relaying important messages while attending to relationship-building can be challenging but if you remember P.I.E., communication will not only be easier but more effective.
Quick question as we dig in, have you ever done or witnessed a trust fall? If not, a trust fall is a team-building exercise in which a person deliberately falls backwards, (hopefully) into the arms of teammates who are ready to catch them.
One rainy afternoon, I taught my children, ages 8, 6, and 4, to do trust falls. We played happily for a half-hour or so, and then I stopped the game to attend to something else. A little while after we’d stopped playing, I heard a loud thud coming from my girls’ bedroom. While I was done playing, they apparently were not and someone had not been caught. Everyone was fine and after some tears and discussion, we figured out that my middle child’s “ready to fall” alert didn’t get the necessary “ready to catch” response, before she fell back. A teachable moment, but a hard lesson.
Communication between educators and families is a lot like a trust fall. When you have something to share with families, a quick update to a new procedure, some good news, or news that may be anxiety provoking, take a moment to assess if family members are “ready to catch.” Thinking about P.I.E- the person, the interaction and the experience will help you make that call and ensure family members are ready to catch and also trust you to fall. Here’s a simple three-part way to improve your communication.
The P is for person.
When in-person or on video, take a moment to look at family members and connect with them as a person, before sharing any information you want to relay. Since the vast majority of communication is non-verbal, just a moment’s pause to consider their facial expression and body language can give you cues for how to communicate effectively while demonstrating care. When on the phone, tune into the tone of voice.
Responding to them in the moment, may mean slowing down the delivery of the message you had intended to share, rewording, or postponing what you wanted to say. Sometimes leaving something unsaid is better than our words just hitting the floor, or worse having a child’s family member feel like you just let them drop to the ground.
The I is for interaction.
Different interactions require different tones and delivery methods. First, consider the number of the interactions you’ve had with the family member. Is this the first time you’re meeting a child's family in-person or is this the 12th time you’ve talked to the family in the past few months? Have you mostly provided information to them via whole class messages or have you communicated with them, exchanging 1-1 texts, chats or emails? What’s been the tone of your previous conversations? How strong is your relationship based on your previous interactions?
Also, consider the type of interaction you need to have and what is needed to create a safe and productive communication space. Factor in aspects like whether or not you are sharing general information or more personal or sensitive information.
Just like you wouldn’t want to participate in a trust fall with a person you’ve just met, or you wouldn’t feel comfortable falling very far, what you share, how you share, and how your message will be received, depends on how much trust you’ve built over previous interactions. This is why the beginning of the year is such a critical time.
Anticipate that there will come a time where you’ll need to work through something challenging together and connect early and often so you have an established relationship that can handle discussing difficult issues. In the process, it's likely you'll learn something from a child’s family member that will help you avoid issues you would have otherwise encountered if not for their insights.
The E is for experience.
Consider the overall experience you want the family member to have. When a parent or family member of one of your students walks away from an interaction with you, how do you want them to feel? How will you ensure that they feel respected, seen, and valued?
Every interaction we have with families is a mini-trust fall. An opportunity to build the trust necessary to work together on our children’s behalf.
Educators, thanks so much for your vulnerability and your willingness to catch and fall, as you work alongside families. But more than anything, for your willingness to work to be a trusted partner to families through it all.
Remember P.I.E. and consider the person, interaction, and experience, to more effectively communicate with families and partner with them throughout the year.