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Connecting with parents

Last week, I shared some strategies and best practices to help teachers develop strong connections with their students. In this post, I will shift the focus to parents. Parents may not sit in our classrooms on a regular basis but they still serve a crucial role in the education of their children. It is critical that teachers make every effort to connect with parents and work together to ensure the success of their students.

Many of us do a great job in this regard and use these relationships and the trust that they engender to lay the foundation for student success. Unfortunately, in my years as a teacher and a principal, I too often observed an unhealthy dynamic between teachers and parents. Such teachers commonly found parents to be people that they needed to “deal with.” They viewed them as nuisances, if not worse. They wanted parents to stay out of their way and let them do their thing. After all, they were the experts.

Parents, for their part, can be quick to get upset with teachers for such things as rules, policies, perceived negative attitudes towards their child and, of course, poor student performance.

The sad reality is that the ones who suffer most from this tension are children. They need to feel the security of the rapport between school and home, rather than to be confused by an undercurrent of disharmony. As the African proverb states, “when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled.”

Without question, much of this can avoided. And if I may be so bold, I think that teachers, as professionals, should be the ones who take the first step. In that light, I present to you the following strategies to help maintain strong teacher-parent relations all year long.

  1. Visit the home. Making a home visit is a great way to initiate a relationship. It sends a powerful message about your interest in a successful year and a willingness to put yourself out in order to connect. It also allows the parents extra comfort and security, which helps ensure a more focused and productive conversation. Most important, it gives you a window into the student’s world, which can be very useful as you begin work with him or her. While there, ask them to tell you about their child, including his or her personality, learning style and interests?
  2. Keep the lines open. Endeavor to stay connected throughout the year, even when things appear to be going well. This will minimally result in the child receiving more positive feedback and may even allow for the adults to identify an issue and troubleshoot it before it becomes something bigger.
  3. Make lots of deposits. This was mentioned in the last post but bears repeating here. If we make early deposits into parents’ “accounts,” by communicating well and highlighting their child’s strengths and successes, we will be better able to express concerns when needed.
  4. Be truthful but solutions oriented. Ineffective, frustrated or angry teachers will oftentimes call parents and try to dump the problem that they are having with their child in the parents’ lap. They share what offense(s) the child committed and state that the parent must do something about it. Naturally, such an approach puts parents squarely on the defensive and often leaves them clueless as to how they can be helpful. When you have to raise concerns, be honest but avoid piling on in order to “make your case.” Instead, share what you have already tried to help their child and remain focused on solutions. By asking, “can you help me help your child?” you make clear that your sole agenda is to help this child become the very best student and person that he or she could be.
  5. Don’t get sucked in. It is easy to get pulled into a defensive struggle with accusatory parents who see you as the problem. Aim to deflect their venom by being a good listener and being empathetic (“I understand why you feel that way”). This will help diffuse the situation before things escalate.
  6. Think to yourself, “How would I want to be treated?” When you’re not sure about how to deal with parents, pause and try to view the situation from their perspective. What would they want for you to do or say to address the situation or their child’s needs? Of course, this does not mean that you must do whatever parents would want for you to do, but it may save you much aggravation if you train yourself to think in their terms and try to identify mutually acceptable solutions.

At the end of the day parents and teachers have the same goal. Both want the best for the student. Through proactive strategies such as equity building and seeking to keep the temperature comfortable at all times, teachers can hope to have a great year with each student (and respective set of parents) that is focused on the child’s needs and growth.

This post first appeared in SmartBlog on Education.