Tutor/Program-Family Communication: Continual Updates

Why should tutors/tutoring programs continually update students’ families?

Continual updates make student progress (and the value of the tutoring program) visible and tangible for families. After introducing the tutoring program to families through an introductory statement and/or initial family meeting, continual updates to families are necessary to keep alive the goals and agreements set in the original conversation. Updates also serve as a starting point for greater family engagement to support students’ goals. The tool below outlines best practices for a variety of communication methods and provides examples of topics appropriate for each method. This tool is for whomever is in charge of communicating with families (e.g, a staff member, the tutor, a teacher, etc.). Remember to keep in mind whatever communication preferences families shared in their initial meetings, and make sure to follow best practices for student confidentiality.

Who should lead on family communication? 

The degree to which tutors interact directly with families will depend on the tutoring program’s design. In some programs, tutors may communicate directly with families, especially programs using more experienced tutors such as teachers or paraprofessionals. In some cases, a designated staff member, such as a Site Director or Parent Coordinator, will communicate with families and liaise with tutors. In other cases, the student’s classroom teacher may take the lead on family communication regarding tutoring. If tutors are expected to communicate directly with families, expectations for this communication should be clearly delineated. Tutors should know with whom they must liaise prior to reaching out to families (e.g., a staff member or teacher), and should, ideally, receive training and coaching related to building successful relationships with families. 

Best Practices Suggested Topics
Know and Respect Family Preferences
  • What time is best to call? (Consider working hours and how early/late is acceptable.)
  • If a family doesn’t pick up, is voicemail or text preferred?
  • Ask the student if they mind if you call home.
  • Why: When a tutor calls home without giving the student a heads up, the student may lose trust in the tutor, especially if the content of the call is unexpected or negative. Every student’s home life is different in ways that aren’t always obvious. Check in with students first, see how they feel about you calling home (for positive reasons or otherwise), listen to their perspective, and be up front if you do choose to call home contrary to their wishes to help maintain trust.
When calling 
  • Always ask at the outset if now is a good time to talk.
  • If a lengthier or delicate conversation is needed, consider asking families to come and talk in person (or by video) instead.
If you are unable to get a hold of families, try:
  • Calling at different times.
  • Getting updated phone numbers from the student or family.
  • Texting the number before you call to introduce yourself and alert the family that they should expect a call in a moment.
  • Leaving a voice message so that they know who you are and why you are calling.
  • Always using the same phone number to call from, and asking families to save the number in their phone.
  • Using a phone number with the same area code as the tutoring program’s location/students’ school.
  • Did the student go above and beyond in any way today? Work consistently the entire time? Try a really challenging problem? Help another student? Share praise!
Tutoring Session Notes
  • Note: In their initial meeting, did families indicate a preference for phone call updates about their student? If not, updates can be done through other methods.
  • Student Academic Progress
  • What topic/method/subject area the student worked on.
  • What (school or program) assignments the student completed.
  • Student Behavioral Updates
  • How the student engaged/participated that day.
  • How the student followed through on any action plans.
  • Whether the student was in an atypical mood (e.g. had trouble keeping eyes open, said they wanted to work by themselves, etc.).
  Immediate/Urgent Concerns
  • Updates and Reminders
  • Be sure to communicate information regarding anything occurring within 24 hours. (Families might not have enough time to check email.)
  • For lengthy updates, consider sending an email or letter in addition to conveying information over the phone.
  • No-Shows: Student doesn’t show up for scheduled tutoring
    • Why: Student safety is at issue if a student’s family believes the student was in tutoring and they weren’t. When a student doesn’t show up for tutoring, families need to be notified ASAP. If the tutoring program happens within the school, there may be methods already in place for communicating with families around no-shows for a specific class/activity. Confirm with the school who will communicate with families if students are not present at tutoring.
  • Any concerns involving student safety
  • Any norms not being upheld as agreed upon in the initial meeting.
    • Examples: Student does not come with their homework as discussed in their last meeting, or tutor was not able to bring promised testing materials to a session.
Media Platforms

Google Voice: Through Google Voice, tutors can obtain a free and consistent phone number to give out to families without disclosing personal phone numbers.
Video Platforms: Google Meet, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom. All of these platforms support both audio and video calls.

Best Practices Suggested Topics
When texting:
  • Keep it formal and professional.
    • Why: While you don’t want to sound robotic, even via text you are representing a program to which families are entrusting their children. Avoid abbreviations.
  • Introduce yourself and the program in your first message.
  • Personalize your messages.
    • Say: “Diego’s Social Studies essay is due at midnight tonight,” not, “Your child has an assignment due.”
  • Keep messages under 160 characters.
    • Why: Long texts may get split and arrive out of order.
  • Only send messages with some immediate urgency.
    • Example: tonight’s homework vs. next week’s rehearsal.
  • Make your messages actionable.
    • Why: Calls to action get attention and cooperation.
    • Say: “Marcus has a test tomorrow. Please ask him how, where, and when he plans to complete his study guide.”
Celebratory Pictures/Videos
  • Why: Families often love seeing pictures of their students in action! They can also share or save the photos easily.
  • Examples of good photo opportunities:
    • Student helping another student
    • Student explaining or presenting a topic
    • Student following through on action steps
    • Student earning a test score that shows growth
Quick Updates/Reminders
  • Examples of typical reminders:
    • Student attendance (e.g. confirming that the student was at tutoring from 4 - 5pm today).
    • Upcoming events, deadlines, and/or assessments.
    • Student reminders (e.g. to bring assignments to tutoring, to come to tutoring, to follow through on action steps from a goal setting conference, etc.).
Media Platforms

Google Voice: Through Google Voice, tutors can obtain free and consistent phone numbers to give out to families so that they do not need to disclose their personal phone numbers.
Remind: A text app that sends reminders to students and families.
TalkingPoints: A text app that can translate reminders into families’ native languages and ask questions via multiple-choice polls.
Kinvolved: A text app that messages families automatically whenever their students are marked late or absent.

Best Practices Suggested Topics

When emailing:

  • Keep an upbeat and friendly tone.
  • Condense multiple emails into one.
    • Why: If families feel spammed, they’ll stop reading.
  • Send emails at predictable times and during working hours.
    • Why: Families are more likely to read and save emails they are expecting.
    • Use a consistent, easy-to-digest structure in your emails.
    • Examples: Keep deadlines in bold, use the same subject heading with a date, send emails from the same (professional, not personal) email address, use a chart or color-code for consistent updates, etc.
  • Use attachments or embedded links to shorten emails.
    • Why: Long emails don’t get read. Include links for those who want to read more, but keep updates brief.

Weekly Updates

  • Share the schedule for the upcoming week.
    • Note: If your Delivery Mode is Virtual or Blended, include video links for the upcoming week’s sessions.
  • Remind families about upcoming deadlines and events.
  • Share additional resources for families to support students.
    • Example: Supplemental online homework resources.
  • Include contact information for the tutoring program.
    • Examples: Specifically point out where families may have questions and where/how they can contact the program. Include contact information in email signatures.

Longer One-Off Updates/Reminders

  • Preview a longer upcoming email in the weekly update, if possible.
    • Why: If you need to send an informational email outside of the weekly update, tell families to keep an eye out for it during the usual weekly email.
  • Choose a unique subject line specific for the update.

Upcoming Celebrations

  • Include information about upcoming celebrations, and then send celebratory pictures/videos consistently in the weekly email to build community (even online).
  • If a family prefers email to text, you can send pictures/videos via email to celebrate students on a regular basis.
Media Platforms

Email Newsletter Tools: These help create and send structured newsletters to a group of subscribers (e.g. HubSpot).

Batch/Bulk Email Blasts: These help you send multiple emails out with some personalization (e.g. MailerLite).

Best Practices Suggested Topics
When sharing access to a drive:
  • Be transparent.
    • Tell students (and families) what data families have access to and when it will be updated.
  • Walk families through how to use the shared drive and/or how to interpret the online documents before sharing.
    • Why: Data sheets and online documents are often tricky to read and include abbreviations or outside context. Address potential miscommunications by reviewing shared documents prior to granting access.
  • Check permissions (then double-check them).
    • If the content is private student data, add each user manually, rather than making a shared drive available to anyone with the right kind of email address (or, worst of all, anyone with a link, including bots who guess the link).
    • Ensure that each student has a separate folder so that no student can access the information for any other student. 
    • Choose view-only vs. editing access very carefully. 
      • Why: Families should have clear instructions and training on how to interact with digital content if needed so templates or past data aren’t deleted or altered.
Tutoring Session Notes
  • What was the objective for the tutoring session? 
  • To what degree did the student accomplish that objective? 
  • What action steps did the student have and did they complete them? 
  • How did the student engage that day?
  • Attendance/Punctuality
Summative Data
  • Examples of Summative Data to Share:
    • Assessments (e.g. Baselines, Midterms, Finals, Interim Assessments, Unit Exams, etc.)
    • Weekly Roll-ups (can include completed work, accuracy of independent work, minutes spent in tutoring, etc.)
    • Quarterly Roll-ups (can include progress to goal, reflection on action plans, attendance, anecdotes, etc.)
  • Why: The more concrete data points a family has, the more connected they feel to the program and the more supportive they can be of their student’s work during tutoring sessions.
Goal Setting and Action Plans
  • Why: If families know what their student is working towards, families can support the student’s action plans outlined in their goal setting conferences by helping the student set aside time for study or by updating a weekly tracker at home. Families can also recognize progress to goals as students learn and grow.
Media Platforms

Shared Drives: These programs can grant access to the same documents by multiple parties (e.g. Google Drive or Dropbox).

Best Practices Suggested Topics
Before a face-to-face family meeting
  • Consider whether an email or phone call would serve instead. If emailing or calling doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate, seek an in-person meeting.
    • Why: Some families won’t be able to come in for a face-to-face meeting easily, and some issues can be addressed with a quick phone call instead (e.g. “Turns out Luis was late because he was helping a teacher clean up!”). Even when an in-person conversation is scheduled, sending an email ahead of time may be best if there is a lot of ground to cover.
  • Consider talking to the student one-on-one first.
    • Why: When a tutor meets with a family without giving the student a heads up, the student may lose trust in the adult, especially if the content of the meeting is unexpected or negative. Every student’s home life is different in ways that aren’t always obvious. Check in with students first, see how they feel about you meeting with their family (for positive reasons or otherwise), listen to their perspective, and be up front if you do choose to hold a meeting contrary to their wishes to help maintain trust.
  When having a face-to-face meeting
  • Start with a shared goal.
    • Tutors and families both want to support the student.
  • State objective observations, not opinions.
    • Use concrete, specific data whenever possible.
    • Avoid assumptions and judgements.
    • Say: “I noticed it took three promptings before Melanie picked up her pencil last tutoring session. This also happened on Tuesday and last Friday,” instead of “Melanie has not cared about tutoring lately.”
  • Explain the impact of the observed behavior and connect it to the student’s goals.
    • Say: “Melanie’s need for repeated reminders led to less work being completed, and Melanie’s last quiz fell short of her goal.”
  • Ask for student and family input.
    • Why: Students and families need time to process tutor comments and opportunity to ask more questions.
    • Say: “Can you help me understand what’s going on?”
  • Come to a conclusion and decide on a next action step.
    • Thank the student and family for taking time to meet with you so that you can better support the student.
    • Come to a shared, agreed-upon action step.
    • Whenever possible, action steps should come from the student.
    • Why: The more student/family-led the solution is, the more likely follow-through will be maintained.
Introductory Meeting
  • A face-to-face follow-up after the introductory letter home so families, students, tutors, and tutoring staff can introduce themselves to one another and ask pertinent questions.
    • Why: An introductory meeting gives tutors a chance to get to know their students as people before getting to know them as students. It also grants insight into family's preferences for communication and their priorities.
Goal Setting Conferences
  • Using assessment data to review students’ strengths and struggles, meet with students and their families to reflect on progress to goals, set new and/or interim goals, and create an action plan on how to achieve articulated goals. 
    • Why: While goal setting can happen with just the student, inviting a family member to a goal setting conference may be helpful, especially if the student is younger, could benefit from executive functioning support, and/or has an action plan that involves at-home steps and assistance with accountability (i.e. working on improved attendance/punctuality).
Intervention Meetings
  • Some students may benefit from having additional reflection meetings beyond the pre-scheduled goal setting meetings. This may be the case if a student:
    • Has already hit the goals set in a prior goal setting meeting, 
    • Is completing their action plan but not making academic progress (e.g. Jannie is turning in her homework on-time now, but her quiz grades aren’t improving),
    • Is not completing their action plan steps, or
    • Is demonstrating a recurring behavior that breaks a tutoring norm or otherwise concerns the tutor.
      • Say: “Luis has come 10 minutes late to three of the last five tutoring sessions. He has also chosen to sit far away from other students.”
Major Celebrations
  • Consider inviting parents to visit in person for:
    • Student Presentations
    • Graduations or Awards Ceremonies
    • Open House Nights
    • Why: Celebratory meetings and culminations give families more information about a program and allow families to see their students and the tutors in action.
Media Platforms

Video Platforms: Google Meet, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom. These platforms support both audio and video calls.