I have made some really bad communication gaffes with parents.

That time I forwarded an email to my principal from a parent complaining that I treated his daughter unfairly, in which I described the child’s behavior in, um, strong terms, but accidentally replied to the parent’s email instead of forwarding it.

Or the time I sent out a mailing with dates and times of school events, but reversed a bunch of them, causing parents to either show up for events at the wrong time or to miss them all together.

Or the time that I sent an all-school bulletin announcing a new program for students who needed extra help. The program filled quickly, but to my surprise one family in particular didn’t sign up. When it came up at a PTA meeting some months later, this parent turned to me in shock. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“I sent an email to the whole community,” I replied.

I’m sure you can anticipate what she said next: “Well, I didn’t get that email,” adding, “and anyway, you knew it was something my kid needed so I’m frustrated you didn’t reach out to me directly.”

I went back to my office and checked the analytics on the announcement. Sure enough, she had not only gotten it, she had opened it. But was she right? Was I responsible for reaching out to her individually, if I informed everyone?

In hindsight, I think I was.

Some parents are harder to reach than others, whether because of their language or circumstances or even personality. But that just means we have to work harder to reach them. One recent study found that email is not enough. Beyond outreach, there’s also the challenge of making parents feel welcome. Included. I collected some good recommendations for how to get started.

Just don’t ever forward an email, though. Take it from me.

Communicating with Parents