The magic bullet of parent-teacher relationships
As we begin a new school year, it’s necessary that we discuss an important topic: parents. Depending on your clientele, you may be overloaded by helicopter parents, unimpressed by absentee parents, or have a mix of the entire spectrum. It’s easy to fall into a negative space when thinking about parents; after all, it would be much easier to teach our darlings if they lived in a vacuum or we could control everything. They don’t and we can’t. So, I want to share some insights and ideas for how to establish positive habits with your students’ parents that will set you up for a successful year.
You know from experience that parents are important - and your experiences are supported by research. Whether in preschool or high school, the relationships that parents have with teachers will impact student achievement, attitudes toward school, and social-emotional development. That’s powerful and pretty daunting, but it’s not as hard as it seems to involve and engage parents. Ready to know the secret?
Trust. That’s it. The magic bullet. The key to successful parent-teacher relationships. The end.
I have children who are preparing to begin a new school year in elementary school, high school, and college. (And, by “preparing,” I mean they are staying up late, sleeping in, and refusing to discuss what’s coming next week.) My feelings this year will be the same as they have since their very first days of school: I’m excited for what is to come, hopeful that they will enjoy new experiences, and terrified by everything I can’t control. Their teachers, whether they realize it or not, have the ability to alleviate some of my terror. Here’s how:
1. Consistency. First and foremost, consistent communication is crucial. Whether you send weekly emails or post a monthly blog, make sure your parents know what to expect from you. Explain – several times and through multiple avenues – how parents will be notified of their children’s behavior and performance in class.
When you create your communication protocols, and consistently follow through with them, you are establishing trust between you and your students’ parents. They know what to expect and they know they can count on you to deliver what you promised
So how does that help you? Well, first of all, you shouldn’t be getting late night emails questioning you about what’s happening in class. But more importantly, when parents recognize that you are trying to pull them into your classroom, they will support you to no end. When their child comes home and says they didn’t do anything in class or that everything is “fine,” your parents can follow up with an informed response. Ideally, this will also lead to parents helping their children make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and how it applies to life beyond the school walls.
2. Support. Parents’ lives are hectic and it’s tricky keeping up with the schedules and goings-on of multiple kids in different grades with different teachers. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to do more to support their children. They just need you to help them.
It’s easier for parents to connect to their students’ learning in earlier grades – not only do students tend to be chattier, but parents are also more likely to understand the content. As their children become more tight-lipped and the curriculum becomes more complex, parents find themselves at a loss for how to engage with their children about school. To help bridge these gaps, you can use every opportunity to educate your students’ parents on ways they can support their children. In earlier grades, maybe it’s providing your parents with discussion questions related to your content. With older students, clarify with parents what it looks like to study math or prepare for a science exam. Think about the knowledge you have that would be helpful for your parents to know – and then share it.
Parents see you as an expert, whether you feel like one or not. They trust that you know what you’re doing and will respect your input. They want to support their children and you, but they need help understanding what that looks like. By providing them with the necessary scaffolding, you are establishing another layer of trust that will pay off greatly in how they support you and your expectations.
3. Love. Hear me out - this might even be more important than consistency and support. Remember when I mentioned the terror I feel when I send my children off to school? You have the power to combat that by ensuring that your parents know that you love their children and that you value being a part of their educational footprint.
You will have less than pleasant conversations with parents this year. You may have to discuss things that make you uncomfortable or angry. But you also show up to that classroom every day because you care about every child who walks through your door. Tap into that feeling when you communicate with parents and be vulnerable. Openly share what you authentically enjoy about their child and be as specific as possible. Parents never tire of positive feedback about their children.
We know that your students will do more for the teachers with whom they have positive relationships. The same is true for parents. If they trust that you are coming from a place of love, they will support you in ways that you likely can’t imagine. They will go to bat for you when their child complains about an assignment or a grade if they see your compassion. They will more easily forgive and forget the mistakes you will inevitably make if they view you as an ally.
Trust is at the heart of every healthy relationship. When we run out of time preparing for the school year, it’s easy to dismiss the importance of cultivating positive relationships with parents. It can be daunting to think about how you can establish trust with people you likely will never see in person while you’re also doing everything else your job requires. However, it’s not as hard as it seems: Communicate consistently, support your parents so they can in turn support you, and be transparent in sharing what you enjoy about their children. These three simple strategies may make all the difference.