You want to have great school and family relationships before you need to contact parents about problems; it makes these discussions so much easier. My advice? Make the first move.
The onus is on you to reach out and create a safe and welcoming environment that encourages parent involvement. Why? Because many parents have a negative association when it comes to teachers, as I mention elsewhere. Yep… whether you feel like it or not, you represent an authority figure – an authority figure who may have been experiencing their child at her worst behavior.
Parents are people, and people fear and dislike being judged. Our goal is to create a parent-teacher relationship that could be described as “professional friendship.” Here’s how.
Teach with total transparency
There is nothing secret going on in your classroom, ever. Just as your principal can drop by at any time, so can parents. Let them know this, even if what they are stopping by to see is your management of their own child.
Search for communication opportunities
Go to where the parents are:
- The bus line
- The drop-off/pick-up location
- The volunteer luncheon
- The after-school bingo night
And talk! Mainly, of course, share positive things about their child, which is what they really want to hear. More on that below.
Ask for input
I like to assign homework for parents to complete on the first day of school. I ask them to answer this question in writing:
“What do you want me to know about your child?”
Kids love giving their parents homework to do on the first day, and parents really appreciate this outreach. It’s simple to do and has a high impact on your parent-teacher relationship. It’s a good time to collect email addresses, too.
Be a little extroverted
I’ve talked about being a bit of an extrovert with the kids; the same holds true with their parents. As I said above, “make the first move.” If you don’t, you will remain strangers to your kids’ parents for far too long.
Approach parents, greet them, learn their names and use them. And use their child’s name when talking to them; this lets them know that you have a caring relationship with their student.
Address their biggest concern up front
A parent’s biggest concern is easy to predict:
“How is Janelle doing in class?”
That’s all they really care about. So tell them. Don’t make them ask.
But just like you don’t want to hear a list of horrible behaviors from your substitute teacher, parents don’t want a load of bad news every time they see you – that would be another one of those negative associations!
Parents know how challenging their child can be. What they are looking for is a ray of hope that he has some redeeming qualities and that you recognize them and celebrate them.
Compliment their child in a specific manner every time you talk to them, especially if their child is listening.
“Ray put in super effort on the spelling test today.”
“Today, Andrea gave a classmate the nicest compliment I’ve ever heard!”
Cementing parent relationships
Usually parents operate on the “no news is good news” principle when it comes to their kids’ behavior and parent-teacher communication. If the school phones, most parents are going to assume it is bad news.
So surprise them: call or email to let them know that their child demonstrated some great behavior.
Picture being a parent and how you would feel if your kid’s teacher called to let you know how kind your child was to another child in school. Your child, your pride and joy, doing good things and being acknowledged for them…
“Geez,” you’d think, “Maybe I’m not such a bad parent, after all!”
Yes, assuaging parental worry/guilt is an acceptable relationship-building technique! I can tell you that I never got communication like this from any of my kids’ teachers, ever. But when I make these calls, I can feel the pride and relief of the parents flowing through the phone.
It’s hard to make time for this, but it’s important. And I don’t care if you suspect the parent had no role in mentoring their child to achieve this great behavior – tell them anyway. Build that relationship.
So we have a great relationship established with our students’ parents. Now it’s time to see how that relationship stands up when it’s tested!