Doctor of Education
Dr. Marilyn Reineck
Teacher-parent communication (TPC) is considered a professional responsibility for all teachers, yet it is most often associated with teachers of elementary-aged students; comparatively less is known about how secondary teachers communicate with parents or how they learn to do so. The qualitative study conducted in May 2020 used semi-structured interviews to examine how South Dakota secondary early career educators (ECEs) learned to communicate with parents and their experiences with TPC. The research questions focused on the definition of effective TPC, experiences from teacher preparation programs (TPPs) with TPC, experiences from in-service years and TPC, recommendations for preparing secondary ECEs for TPC, and the final question explored impacts on TPC during distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study’s findings advance three arguments. First, secondary ECEs perceive they are underprepared for TPC when they enter the profession. While participants reported that their TPP stressed the importance of TPC, they had little, if any, experience with TPC with the exception of mostly observing parent-teacher conferences while student teaching. Second, a disjuncture exists between how secondary ECEs’ discuss effective TPC and their actions when communicating with parents. All participants reported using email most often when communicating with parents, even when other modes, such as telephone calls or face- to-face, were perceived to be more effective. Third, the participants believe that forming positive relationships with parents and students is key for effective TPC, whereby the ideal is a tripod communication framework including the student, parent, and teacher working together for student success. Within this framework, ECEs emphasized the importance of proactive communication in terms of building relationships and maintaining those relationships, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to distance learning across South Dakota in the spring of 2020.
The findings lead to practice and policy implications for better preparing secondary ECEs for effective TPC in TPPs and school districts alike. TPPs’ curriculum and student teaching expectations as well as professional development for in-service teachers may be revised to include skills-based communication training and application. In particular, trainings focusing on active listening skills and written communication skills are needed for effective TPC, and participants recommended experiencing TPC in the form of simulations and role playing. In-service years could target further development of TPC skills and emphasize the value of TPC through the implementation of formal mentorship programs in addition to administrative support.
Keywords: teacher-parent communication, teacher preparation programs, secondary educators, early career educators