Catechists have an important role to play in terms of communicating with parents about their children’s faith formation development. This can be challenging, since families are so busy with many different work, school, and social activities. Sometimes catechists may feel like they do not have the same authority as a school classroom teacher and may wonder what the best methods are to use in order to engage parents. Here are some specific strategies to improve communication about religious education lessons and to encourage more parent involvement.
- Be available both physically and psychologically. Make the time before or after class to talk to parents about any concerns they have. Pay attention to your body language, since it may convey (if you stand with your arms crossed or tap your feet) that you are in a hurry.
- Be receptive. Avoid sending the message that you are not available or open to ideas. Try listening to parents’ concerns or questions first, and then follow up with questions of your own.
- Be informative. Keep parents updated about events that are upcoming in the classroom and in the community. If children need to bring something to the parish for a lesson, send a reminder. Consider using a folder to send communications back and forth between home and religious education. Send an e-mail or text message reminder as well, because some parents are more likely to read these messages instead of printed communication materials. Parents are also more likely to read something that is visually engaging, so consider adding pictures to any flyers that you send home.
- Clarify how parents can help. Some parents may feel like they do not have the appropriate expertise or knowledge regarding religion because of their own experiences as children. Encourage parents to assist with group projects or to volunteer in the classroom to help with a specific activity. Some parents just need a little encouragement, because they feel like they don’t want to undermine the catechist’s authority.
- Be sensitive to language issues. When developing parent communications, such as a newsletter or e-mail, keep the language simple. Use short sentences. Consider using a bulleted list to highlight key points.
- Initiate every parent communication with something positive about the child. When conversing with parents, think of something constructive to say about the child before delving into any challenges you are having with the child. Otherwise, the parent may tune out what you are saying. Try to focus on what the child does well while providing some ideas for growth.
- Consider cultural issues when developing parent communications, and be sensitive to eye contact. Some cultures consider it an insult to look someone directly in the eye, so be aware of any of these issues with the specific populations in your parish community. When dealing with potential challenges, recognize that some parents will not raise any issues or concerns because they feel like it is not their place to address problems at school. They may prefer to handle it at home privately. Similarly, if they cannot understand something, they may not want to speak up either, so look out for non-verbal signs in addition to verbal cues that the parent is in distress.
- Figure out problems together. Do not make assumptions about the challenges that arise, because they may have another explanation. Some parents do not feel comfortable disagreeing with anyone they consider an authority figure.
Remember that parents are their children’s first teachers, so it is important to keep lines of communication open, whether it be in person or through other communication tools. When communicating in written form, a general rule is to keep it short and simple. All of your efforts to connect with parents are important, because parent communication and engagement are vital to the success of religious education programs.