My first few years of teaching, there was nothing I was more terrified of than parents. I was worried they would be upset with me and that I wouldn’t have the right answers for them. I was also worried they might second guess what I was doing, or not like the way that things were being done in my classroom (common core math… who hasn’t gotten this complaint?!). Now, I would view parent-relationships as a huge strength for me. Building relationships with parents is VITAL to finding student success in your classroom. You truly need the parent-teacher-student team relationship to help students get past the biggest hurtles. Here are some things that I do to help foster strong parent-teacher relationships throughout the year.
1. Weekly Newsletters
If you are writing weekly lesson plans, then weekly newsletters are SO easy to complete! I just send a quick email blast detailing what we are doing in class and how parents can help strengthen this at home. I also include questions parents can ask their kids specific to what we have talked about at school, important dates and important reminders for parents. I always get appreciative compliments from parents that this makes them feel connected to our learning environment. This could also be done less frequently, such as monthly or quarterly updates.
If you are able, post pictures as often as you are able. Parents love to see what is happening in your learning environment and love to see the hard work that students are completing in your classroom. This year, I am using Class DOJO’s portfolio feature and I cannot say ENOUGH about how amazing it has been. It is currently in beta testing, but will be a free feature for everyone to use soon. I have students take and send their own photos to parents, and they get so excited to see a photo/message from their students during the day. Before this feature was available, I was sure that I was updating DOJO at least once weekly with photos of students working around the classroom. These can be individual head-shots, group shots or a whole class shot. I promise you, it is super easy and parents love it!
3. Assessment Reports
I ALWAYS keep parents posted about where their student is performing, and what the current grade level goal is. This keeps any gaps transparent, and makes grades at the end of the period less surprising. I also always offer to send home extra supports for students that might have been struggling, so parents know how to help bridge any gaps that may exist. I send my assessment reports on a small slip of paper, or I just have one message that I copy and paste/change scores in on Class DOJO messages. This way, it is sure not to be lost and I can see when parents have viewed it.
4. Constant Open Communication
If I have a student with serious behavior or academic needs, I am sure to be talking to those parents every day or at least multiple times a week. I try to focus on highlights from the week, so that when there is a more serious issue, parents know I am on their student’s side. Communication needs to be honest and needs to be frequent so that parents know what the expectation is, and what their child needs to do to get there.
5. Be Solution Oriented
Rather than harping on what students are missing or not doing, be sure to provide multiple solutions for things you are trying at school that may or may not be working, and for things parents can possibly try at home. Also, do NOT be afraid to ask parents what IS working at home for them. You would be surprised how helpful this can be in your classroom.
6. Be OPEN To Parent Ideas/Requests
Apart from just asking parents what they are doing, you need to be willing to try what they are doing. I have heard many educators talk about how “parents try to control their classroom.” Parents are only trying to do what is best for their students. You need to remember, this child is their ENTIRE world. You get the privilege of teaching this child for 180 days, 8 hours a day. This parent has had this child for MANY hours and days before that and it will forever be their baby. They know what works, what doesn’t work and what could help. Trust them and try to work with them the best you can. That being said, you do not have to do EVERYTHING they suggest, but try to see what common ground you can find and see what you can do that will work for you and for them.
7. Inviting Parents In
One way to be sure to create a relationship with your parents and to be transparent about your teaching is by inviting parents to come in and volunteer. They don’t need to physically be inside of your classroom, it might be best if they are out in the hallway. This allows them to see the vibe you give off to your students and also can be EXTREMELY helpful for you! Have a parent make your copies, or sort your materials, or change your bulletin boards. This can take a huge load off your plate while also helping parents get to know you. If you aren’t comfortable with them watching you teach, invite them to assemblies or on field trips or to recess one day.
8. Be Yourself & Chat at Events
When parents do come into the school, don’t be afraid to chat with them at these events. Ask about their family, their day, their job, their other children, what books they like, ask about anything! They want to talk to you and they are people too. Find commonalities and build a relationship with them. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but this helps parents to see you in a positive light. It also helps parents relate to their students when they are talking about you at home… which you know kids go home and tell their parents all about you!
9. Connect with EVERY Parent
This can be a really tough one.. but I promise it will be worth it. You need to make sure EVERY parent in your classroom knows you. I have worked in schools where this seems impossible, but I PROMISE you it is do-able. The parents that are not responding to your calls and emails typically have students who need the most attention from you for a variety of reasons. Maybe the family doesn’t speak the language, maybe they work multiple jobs, maybe they are intimidated by having the school contact them.. but you need to find a way to meet these parents and build a relationship with them so that you guys can work as a team to do what is best for their child. I would DEFINITELY try to connect with these parents on a positive note first before any other communication is sent home.
10. Parent Teacher Conferences
I used to DREAD parent teacher conferences, but if you are following the tips above, I promise you they will be WAY easier. Now, there is still always the possibility that you do these things and have THAT parent that is constantly questioning you or disagreeing with you, and that’s okay.. it’s bound to happen. But these tips and tricks should help you run your conferences smoothly. It also eliminates super difficult conversations at conferences, because if you have an open communication line, there are NO surprises. I often even look forward to conferences, as it is a great time to refresh and make sure we are on the same page, while also talking about growths the student has made throughout the year.
Do you have any tips or tricks that I might have missed, or any further questions? Drop them in the comments below so we can all collaborate and grow together!