January 21, 2020

The Importance of Building Positive Parent Partnerships

My first year as a teacher, I was terrified of parents. Phone calls, emails- all communication with them terrified me. Looking back, my reasoning was limited: I was always afraid that if they were contacting me, it was because of something I did wrong. Itaughtat a well-knownprivate school, and the storiesabout parentsfromveteran teachers in the building were elaborate and brutal.

Afewyears into myteachingtenure, I began to realize howincorrect my perception was. Sure, there were parents who wanted tochallenge me, but in general, I found that parents were often my first line of action when I wanted to help, nudge, or connecton a different levelwith a student.

I went through some trial and error before understanding how to work with parents, and the following is whatI’ve learned alongthe way…I share it in the hope that it will help you too:

1. In the Loop

Student grades can be accessed online,soparentscan check their child’s grades at any time through the parent portal. Initially, my perception was that parentswere dialed in at alltimes,andwere consistently tracking their child.Before I was a parent and now that I amone,I can’t imagine tracking my children that closely!

Parents have different ways of connecting with theirchildren,andhave different ways to monitor their child. Consider that when school is in session, children’s time at school is longer than the time they are at home.From a parent’s perspective, that alone isreason enough tocrave knowledge aboutmychild’s “school life.” However, especially if there’s something good or challenging happening witha student, youdefinitely needto reach out on a regular basis. Are there times when there’s challenge or pushback? Absolutely. But you have kept parents in the loop about their child. It is absolutely your responsibility to communicate actively with parents by sharing both good and badnews.

2. Surprise!

The unhappy and angryparentsI experiencedthose first couple of years were the ones Iupdated only whenmidterm grades were released, showing that their child was performing poorlyfor weeks. Had I let them know much earlier than that (as I learned to do), we could have been a teamworking togetherto help the child, and the child’s struggling may not have been so consequential. It’s much easier to work with a parent when both sides understand the situation, and agree on a plan to move forward.Have the courage to broach problems when they are relatively benign- smaller problems are more easily addressed.

3. Parents want to help you help theirchild.

Unless the parent is constantly in your classroom, they don’t know how to best help their child succeed in your class. Communicating as much as possible with parents about where their child is succeeding, and where he or she could improve helps parents immensely.Your students work best with explicit instructions and detail; parents do too. If they are able, parents can be a powerful part of helping their child do well, so enlist them.Askparentsfor ways to connect and engage with their child. Most don’t wish to interfere with your instruction, but they do want to play an active role in helping their children thrive.

4. Parents are not your main customers.

You are there to serve the students!! However, as a beginning teacher, I was *just immature enough* that I perceived my job as the person who appeased parents with very little attention paid to what the student needed. That’s just not the way it works. No matter what your teaching role is, your customers are your students. Parents are stakeholders, but your interactions and relationships with students should be your number one concern, not what parents perceive you to be. It turns out that explaining things well, demonstrating respect, and empowering a student has the same benefits as for a parent. How powerful it became when a parent and I could talk to and about a child we both wanted to support in all the best ways.

Any effort you spendengagingparents with their child’s education is worthwhile. Not only will parents support you in your role, but you can support parents in theirs, and in doing so, the child is supported and cared for in a holistic way.These tips will help you navigate and nurture relationships with your students’ parents andcaregivers.

Learners Edge offers two great courses on how to build relationships with parents:

859-a Course 859: Parent Trap: Achieving Success with Difficult Parents & Difficult Situations

This course will explore strategies to help you establish positive, constructive relationships with parents of your students. It will also help you work with the most challenging parents in the most challenging situations. Some of the many skills you willlearn include: learning how to avoid the “trigger” words which serve only to make bad situations worse, learning how to use the “right” words to develop more positive relationships, and dealing with parents who accuse you of not being “fair.”

5844-a Course 5844: Engaging Parents for Student Success

We’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village.” This course will help teachers increase students’ “villages” by engaging families, parents, students, and the community to ensure student success. Discover pro-engagement approaches, ways to foster participation, and learn how to establish positive and constructive relationships with the parents of your students all while improving and focusing on parent-teacher communication.


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