Building a positive relationship with the parents of your students is key to a successful and fulfilling school year. When we asked veteran teachers from across the country how they go about nurturing that relationship, there was no shortage of ideas. Below are some teacher-tried and classroom-tested ideas that are sure to inspire you to build great relationships with families this year.
Building Strong Parent-Teacher Relationships
Banking on Parents’ Involvement
“I think of building relationships with parents much like I would build up a bank account,” explains 3rd & 4th Grade Teacher Janice from Warsaw, Indiana. “It’s important to make more ‘deposits’ than ‘withdrawals.’ During the first few days of school, and throughout the school year, I look for positive aspects about each child, and then report my findings to his or her parents. This deposit can be as simple as noting when a student performs an act of kindness, when he asks or answers a difficult question, or when she does well on a test or assignment. Later on, if a difficult situation comes up and a withdrawal needs to be made, it seems to go more smoothly since I already made positive deposits.”
The Value of Honoring Parents’ Perspectives
“We all learn new and valuable lessons every day. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to always listen to parents’ thoughts and suggestions,” says Tomeka, a 1st Grade Teacher from Indianapolis, Indiana. “Although as teachers we are trained in the field of education – and often believe we know what’s educationally best for each child – we must remember that most parents have known their children for their entire lives and from a different perspective. It’s good to remain open and remember that parents may have fresh insights and ideas for helping to support their own children in the learning process. Any tips or ideas parents put forth may prove to be just the thing you need help their children learn more effectively.”
Ticket to Conflict Resolution
“When students have issues with each other in school, parents often expect me to come to the rescue,” admits Diane, a 3rd Grade Teacher from Medinah, Illinois. “I tell parents that, instead of unraveling and solving students’ problems, I look for ways to empower their children with conflict resolution skills. I add that one of the best tools I developed is the “Problem Report Form.” I explain that when children are upset with each other, they must complete the form before speaking with me. I keep a supply of these forms in a basket at our Writing Center so the children can help themselves when needed.
The form provides spaces for students to supply information, such as:
- The date
- The names of students involved
- A description of what happened from each participant’s unique perspective
- Steps that could have been used to prevent the situation
- Ideas for preventing the situation in the future
- Signatures of parent, teacher, principal as well as the students involved.
This approach calms ragged feelings and encourages productive conversation between and among the feuding students. It also helps students understand their problems and allows them to see how they each participated in the situation. As a bonus benefit, the form system prevents students from tattling about frivolous situations of little or no real consequence. Sharing the forms with parents is one way I can inform them of what happened in class while demonstrating how their children are becoming empowered to solve their own problems.”
Working Together with Parents By Giving Them Specifics
“Parents who learn their child is not progressing smoothly in school can quickly move into panic mode,” warns Maralee, a 6th Grade Teacher in Rancho Murietta, California. “Out of a sense of caring, fear, and/or embarrassment, parents can easily become defensive at the mere hint that something is not right. To help parents relax as you discuss their child and his or her challenges together, it’s important that you begin any discussion with a sincere and positive observation. For example, you might say something like, ‘Your son Johnny has many friends; just the other day I pointed out to him how I’ve noticed he is always kind and considerate of others,’ Then move to any specific concerns you might have about Johnny.
When discussing concerns, avoid hazy generalizations that can overwhelm parents (e.g., ‘Johnny is weak in math’) and instead stick to manageable specifics parents can address (e.g., ‘I do have some concerns about Johnny’s ability to recall math facts quickly’). Then offer some samples of the work or recorded observations of the behavior in question. Invite the parents to share their perspective (as they are sure to have a different, yet equally valid, take on their child) and work together for some solutions to try. Share some positive ideas you are going to try in class, as well as some ideas and resources parents can try at home. Close the meeting by agreeing to follow up on a mutually convenient date in the near future. This specific and helpful approach helps place you and the parents on the same side in your shared concern for Johnny and his progress.”
What are some of your best tips for interacting with parents and building strong home-school connections? Leave a comment below and share with us!