5 tips for building effective relationships with parents. It’s the end of the day. You’ve just shepherded your class out into the playground at home time. You’re tired but you’ve still got a pile of marking to do and a meeting to attend. And then out of the corner of your eye you see that parent making a move in your direction. They’re known for liking a chat and mostly it’s about nothing particularly important but it’s usually difficult to get away. Do you really have time for this now?
Your instinct is probably to say ‘no’, that there are umpteen other things that should take priority over a bit of a social chat with a parent. However, it’s wise never to underestimate the value of time spent building relationships with the parents of the children in your class, for two important reasons. Firstly, the children you teach need to see you communicating directly with their parents or caregivers. Secondly, parents need to feel confident that you will work with them if any problems arise during the year. So, with this in mind, here are some suggestions on how to ensure your relationships with parents are productive.
1. Make time to make contact from the start of term
Take time in the first few weeks of the school year to make contact with all the parents or caregivers of the children in your class, whether in the form of a chat at the school gate, a quick phone call or even a note home with the child. Regard this as building bridges that may need to be crossed at a later stage. It gives a clear signal to the parents that you want to work with them and that you are available to them, regardless of the size of any ‘problem’ the parents may wish to discuss.
Importantly, it also signals to the child that not all communication will be mediated through them. If the child believes that their parent’s opinion of you will be based entirely on whatever the child tells them, they will feel free to manipulate the facts to their own advantage (and often to your detriment!). On the other hand, if they know that you communicate directly with their parents or caregivers, they may be more careful about how they present matters at home.
Inviting parents and caregivers to spend time in the classroom, whether by hearing readers, helping with food technology sessions or accompanying the class on a trip, makes them feel welcome and that you are open to their involvement in their child’s schooling.
2. Maintain regular communication
Follow this up as soon as possible with regular communication about each child’s positive achievements. Again, this can be brief and in the form of a quick mention at the gate or a note in a home–school diary. By sharing the positives with parents, you are reinforcing the message that you want to involve them in what goes on in the classroom and that you are success-focused and looking for the best in the children, while simultaneously preparing the ground in case there is a more serious issue to discuss.
3. Talk to the parents early if you suspect something is wrong
If you suspect there is a problem with a particular child, flag it up as soon as possible to the parents. Obviously you don’t want to make completely unsubstantiated claims, but it pays to give parents early warning so that issues can be tackled in a measured, calm way and, if appropriate, nipped in the bud.
4. Prepare thoroughly for all meetings with parents
If a parent requests an appointment with you, ask them to indicate in advance what they would like to discuss. By preparing thoroughly – whether this means checking back through a child’s books, consulting with a colleague or considering possible courses of action – the meeting will be more productive, increasing the chances of both parties being satisfied that it has gone as well as possible.
5. Make sure you know whats going on at the “top”
Use whatever support is available from senior management but ask to be involved at each stage. Sometimes parents opt to go ‘straight to the top’ with a problem or complaint, while other schools’ policies dictate that this is how parental complaints are handled. In either case, it can be easy to feel powerless, particularly if it seems the issue is being discussed behind your back. Ask to be present at any meetings and to have input in, or at least to approve, any written communications about the problem. The message parents receive should be clear: you and the senior management stand together on this particular issue, so any attempts by parents to side-line you, in the hope that they’ll get a different answer, will be futile.
In short, take responsibility for your own PR so that you can ensure that parents and caregivers receive strong impressions that have come directly from you. Don’t leave it to the children you teach or to the odd disgruntled parent to add their own ‘spin’. If you have invested time in connecting with the parents of the children you teach, you have already gone much of the way towards ensuring that any of the misunderstandings that inevitably occur from time to time remain labelled as such, rather than escalating into issues that require specific damage-limitation.