Friday, March 11, 2011

Keeping in Touch with Parents

I always consider myself a work in progress. However, where parent communication is concerned, I’m a slow learner. To make things more complicated, each parent is a person with their own viewpoint, busy schedule, and needs. Therefore, each conversation is slightly different. The only way to know how to individualize the conversation is to be a good listener. Understand what the person is asking and try to answer accordingly. There are three areas of communication that are worth discussing: welcoming newcomers, keeping everyone informed, and one on one communications. This post will address welcoming new students and keeping in touch. I’ll use the next post to address working individually with parents and their children.

Welcoming New Students (and their parents)
Recently I sent one of my brown belts to welcome a new child (and his parents). They arrived after the class had begun and I was busy with other things. When adult class started, the brown belt said “Sensei, I have a question. What, exactly, do we say when we’re talking to parents on their first day?” Up until that moment, I hadn’t really thought a lot about what I say. Right then, we brainstormed and here is the short list:

While the child joins circle

I talk to parents

I say “HI” and thanks for your interest. Next, I introduce myself to the adults and shake hands, etc. Then I put my attention to the child. I bend down and say “Hi”. I put my hand out to see if they’ll shake and ask their name. If they hide behind their mom’s leg, I turn my attention back to the adult and let the child acclimate. At that point I say to the parent, “Johnny may want to just watch today. If he does, that is fine. Then next time he comes he can have his try out.” At that point I bend down to Johnny once again and repeat the sentence. I show everyone to their seat and say to Johnny. “If you decide to come and join us, just get my attention.” (Traveling back to the moment when I introduce myself to the child) If the child shakes my hand and tells me his name I say to him, “Would you like to try the class today. We’re probably going to have fun.” Hopefully all this is happening before class starts. In my dojo, before class starts we all sit together and talk about everything and anything. (See my last post!) Shy or outgoing, at this point I say to the child “Would you like to sit with us and talk? We’re talking about …{video games, movies, our favorite sport, whatever!} Most children can’t resist the chance to talk. As you all know, we train without shoes. However, if the child seems shy I DON’T mention their shoes at this point. If they seem comfortable, I say “Would you like to take off your shoes now?” On the child’s first day, whether they wear shoes or not….it isn’t a deal breaker. Some children need more time to acclimate to the room before they trust enough to do anything they think is unusual.
It all seems like common sense until you’re standing there without backup trying to figure out what to do and say.

As the parents are sitting and watching, I take a moment during the class to drop off a small packet with “Parent Information” in it. This packet contains a list of parent conduct that I appreciate (read here ‘require’).

This consists of:
1. A signup sheet
2. A list of my locations and times
3. A fee sheet
4. A sheet that asks parents to watch quietly, take phone calls and conversations outside.
5. A sheet that explains that taking pictures is allowed but videotaping class is not allowed.

6. And finally a sheet that asks parents to make their habit to communicate with me outside of training time when possible because that 60 minute period is so busy that fitting conversation with parents in is distracting for me. I encourage my parents to email. But lots of them text and a few like to talk on the phone. I’ve been thinking that some of you might not agree with this. You might like to deal with parents ONLY during training time and I would love to hear how you balance the time. I don’t like missing time with the kids and I like missing my adult class even less. So talking to parents AFTER class is even more uncomfortable for me. What are your thoughts? Am I the only one with talky parents?

Another side note about new students is: After the parent turns in their signup sheet, I have a small folder I give the child [I have one for adults too]. However, I’m sure you have all these things too! Write me if you want to share what information we put in the packets.
That pretty much sums up what happens when new people arrive. Please write me with your input.

Keeping Parents Informed.

When I was a kyu, hard copy flyers were the only means of communication with students and parents. Although I use that method, I prefer to email parents with a flyer on an upcoming event. Parents like this too. I have a group of parents in my address book. Anytime I get a new student, I add the parents' name to the group and send them a “Welcome” email. I send flyers on competitions, seminars, extra workouts, etc. Since I send all information on the computer it encourages questions via email rather than in class. I’ve also found that less people take flyers in class, telling me they already have one at home! Do you all use this method? I also use the computer to remind parents if their fee is due. I have really good luck with this. Let me know what you all do? On a personal note: I NEVER forward to parents. I don’t think it is professional to fill their box with junk. I also think that distracts from the information I’d really like them to notice when they see my email address in their “in” box.

I’d like to close this post with a quote that an education instructor once told me and it has been unquestionably the most helpful tool I’ve had in working with parents: “Remember, when you’re talking to parents, that every one of them is doing the best they can with what they have to work with at that moment in time.”