Parent-teacher relationships can be really great, but they can also be really tumultuous. A parent can be a teacher’s greatest supporter, or a parent can also become a teacher’s worst enemy if teachers don’t correctly navigate the relationship. Here are some ways to build more positive relationships with your students’ parents.
Do it Early and Do it Often. Contact the parents of all your students in September. It may seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end. This initial interaction should always be positive and encouraging. Save time by writing a form letter, a form email, or phone script.
Call. Email. Text. Use Smoke Signals. Do whatever you have to do to get in touch with your students’ parents. If you can’t find any information in your electronic grade book go to the guidance office or ask the secretaries in the main office. They will be happy to assist you. Whatever you do, do not just let this go. You should contact every parent.
Set Clear Boundaries. Parents will push. And rightly so; they want the best for their child. The benefit that you have as the teacher is a more objective point of view of each parent’s child. You can offer information that is insightful and honest. You can listen empathetically while at the same time letting them know that your classroom is not run the same way as their home.
Here is an example:
A teacher was working with a student who kept failing a vocabulary test. The mother of the child emailed after every unsatisfactory grade to request a re-take for the student. Soon, the continued failures and constant requests became overwhelming. The teacher finally set some boundaries. She gave the student supplemental materials and emailed those same materials to the parent. The teacher set a deadline date—the day before the close of the marking period—and told the parent that the student could re-take the test as many times as she wanted until that date. The parent was still unhappy with this solution. The teacher explained the restrictions she had with grades and timing (such things were also out of her control) and also offered other suggestions for the future concerning how to help the student. She closed her email to the parent with this: “If you are still dissatisfied with this solution please contact the building principal and we can work out a solution that works for all of us.” The teacher never had a problem with the parent again.
Be a Problem Solver. Before you make any phone calls to parents about misbehavior or academic failures, be sure you have a solution to whatever the problem may be. Never call a parent and say, “I just don’t know what to do with him.” Have a plan. Tell the parent about the plan and offer them suggestions about how to follow through with the plan at home. If the parent doesn’t like your plan, come up with one that works for both of you, but never, ever, go in cold. The best way to get a parent to become your worst enemy is to show that you don’t care enough about their child to help him.
Understand You’re On the Same Team. Working with parents can be tough. Some parents are stubborn. Some won’t trust you. Others might not like you. Some think they know everything there is to know about their child and about education. But just remember—and remind the parent of this as well—that you are both working toward the same end; to help the student. You need to do what is best for that individual student. It may take more than just offering a plan to a parent, and having the parent accept that plan, to make that happen. Be sure to compromise when you need to. You might not always get what you want, but it is better to agree on something rather than give the student conflicting information in school and at home.
Respectfully Assert Yourself as a Professional. You. Yes, you—teacher of students, architect of young minds—you are a professional. (Some days you may not feel this way, but on those days you just fake it ‘til you make it. And you will make it.) You know what your students need and don’t be afraid to say so. Some parents will be pushy. Some parents will be completely lost. No matter. Let them know that you are the professional in this situation and this is your area of expertise. Offer them your professional opinion. That’s why you are there.
Involve the Student. Your relationship with each student’s parents means nothing without that student. Be honest with the student about what you are saying to their parents. Encourage the student’s parent to talk to their child about what the teacher said concerning a particular situation. Don’t tell the parent one thing and the students another. Be clear with all parties about all communications. You can’t go wrong if you only have one story and it’s the truth.
In the end, you can get parents on your side. It may take some time, but if you show you care (which you do, or you wouldn’t be contacting parents in the first place) parents will always accept that. And you will be on the road to having parents as your greatest supporters and not as your worst enemies.