One of the greatest assets and biggest barriers to successful student growth lies within the power of communication with a child’s parent/guardian. The background knowledge a parent can provide to you, as an educator, is priceless since most parents know their child better than anyone else. A parent is the one advocate for their child’s education that remains consistent for its entirety. Building a constructive relationship with parents is a potent tool that teachers should foster, and there is an art to creating and maintaining those connections as a joint endeavor to provide solutions for an impactful learning experience when the student’s success is at the heart of the work.
The old adage states, “No one cares what you know until they know you care.” These words resonate to the core of every educator that has a sustainable relationship with parents. In order to be able to communicate about a child, good and bad, a parent needs to know that you are a real person. Oftentimes, teachers miss a golden opportunity by only sending a newsletter home to introduce themselves at the beginning of the year.
Take the time to meet with parents one-on-one, even if for only 15 minutes, to let them tell you what you do not know about their child. Solutions to errant behaviors or extrinsic motivators can be shared, as well as interesting facts you may not know unless you have a relationship with the child can be shared. For those first meetings, do more listening than talking. Your non-verbal communication will show more interest and allows you to model for a parent your expectation during conversations.
Share the Positives
One of the greatest complaints I receive from teachers is, “Parents won’t answer when I call.” My first question usually revolves around the time of the call and if the parent is working at that time. Second, I want to know if this is the first contact she has made with the parent. If the only time a teacher reaches out is when a student is not behaving the way they prefer or performing in school well, parents are less likely to give you the time you need to discuss their child’s progress.
Starting with positive affirmations, including snapshots of what their child is doing in your classroom and how they are growing, allows a parent to know you are interested in involving them in all aspects of their child’s learning, not just when “you can’t handle it.” Every interaction does not have to a phone call, but utilizing different modes of communication (i.e., notes home, messages through text or apps, emails, etc.) provides an opportunity for a parent to hear from you frequently.
How to Approach the Negative
Unfortunately, there will be times when all communication is not positive. For minor infractions, a note home or an email will suffice; however, for major instances, it is imperative to have a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Remember, so many parents wear their child’s behavior as an affirmation or humiliation, so broaching these talks with compassion and grace will solidify you as an accomplice and not villainize you as the one who simply dislikes their child.
Acknowledge the struggle of hearing this kind of information, but offer hope and a plan for the child moving forward. A parent does not want to send their child to an adult every day with the ideation that person has a vendetta against their child or holds grudges because the child was not ideal in their interactions. When you remain approachable and understanding, keeping calm and solutions-oriented, parents will want to work with you to ensure their child is successful.
Embrace Phone Calls
Early in my career, I dreaded phone calls to parents. I had a young child, and I was teaching high school so my natural reaction was to feel inferior and guilty. I knew they were going to say it was my fault, and I was not sure how to relay that it was not. As a result, I avoided the conversation altogether.
Now, as an administrator, my goal is to talk to the parent before the child does because it holds me accountable to speaking with the parent and the parent does not have time to become guarded when I call. Once a child tells their side of the story, the parent will stress about how you perceive their child, their parenting skills, and the worry will twist the story. There is power in voice and intonation. The sound of your voice is condemning or understanding. You get to decide the message you portray. Always err on the side of reconciliation rather than denunciation. Choose to talk to your parents.
When Parents aren’t Supportive or Understanding
There are times when conversations with parents can be brutal. Some parents have had poor interactions with schools. Frustration, anxiety, fear, and incompetence come to the forefront in those exchanges. Your responsibility is to be professional. Remaining calm and acknowledging their emotion and why they might feel that way can be a game-changer.
This is where you seek to understand before being understood. Keep yourself solutions-oriented, offering ways a child can be successful. If there is an instance that has occurred that warrants a parent being upset, allow them time to express their frustrations and then provide feedback for moving forward. As a teacher, it is not your place to be verbally abused by parents, so I will recommend having an administrator present for those discussions or referring those who are so angry they cannot speak to you respectfully to an administrator.
Parents send us their best daily. We are working toward the same goal: student success. Words matter so, choose wisely.