I’ve always regarded the teaching and learning process as a triangle formed by the teacher, the students and the parents. Each element in this triangle is very important and a good teacher-parent relationship is paramount to a positive learning process.
Why is it important to have a good teacher-parent relationship?
In a very interesting article published in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning, prof. Sandra B. Loughran of Dowling College underlines the benefits of a functional relationship between teachers and parents.
A good connection between the teacher and the parents means more than just a bunch of status reports about the child’s behaviour and grades. It is actually a two-way street. From the teacher to the parent about the child’s academic achievements and behaviour in a social environment and from the parent to the teacher about the child’s behaviour in a home environment as well as the child as a whole.
A good teacher-parent bond will create a link between school and home and will enable the parents to continue and enhance the work done at school in the home environment. As teachers, we can clearly see the difference between a student who gets full support at home and a student who doesn’t.
There’s nobody in the world that knows the child better than the parents. So, teachers should take full advantage of this knowledge in order to be able to fully and correctly asses a student. A good bond between teachers and parents will enable a rich exchange of information from which the child will benefit immensely.
As a parent, I want to know everything that my child does at school. Except, at least in my boy’s case, he’s not very talkative and it feels like I have to extract the words with hot pliers from his mouth about his day at school. So, often I turn to his teacher to find out the most important things. I now understand why the teacher parent communication is vital and, as a teacher, taking the time and talk to the parents about their children is so valuable.
How to Build a good Teacher-Parent Relationship
It is relatively easy to form a good relationship with your students as you see them every day. If you think about it, after their parents, children spend the most amount of time with their teachers. So, inevitably a close bond will be formed.
But how do we form a strong teacher-parent relationship? How do we form any type of relationship with people that we barely see? You catch a glimpse of the parents in the morning when they drop off their kids and another few minutes when they pick them up. It’s not really enough to get to know someone, is it?
Here are a few things that can be done in order to lay the foundation and later develop a good, strong realtionship with the parents.
Organize a ‘Welcome to school’ meeting
At the beginning of every school year, I like to organize a quick meeting with the parents in which we can get to know each other a little bit.
I take my time to introduce myself, offer my contact details, get the parents’ details as well, talk a little bit about the course, my expectations from the students, rules that the students need to follow and any details that I consider to be important and relevant to the parents and students.
If there are questions from the parents (and there always are), I am glad to answer them.
If you can’t organize such a meeting, perhaps you can invite the parents in the classroom along with the students on the first day of school.
This will show the parents that you are open for dialogue and you genuinely care. In addition, it sets the foundation for good teacher-parent communication for the future.
2. Take the time to send emails periodically
Periodically, you can send emails to the parents underlining the achievements of the children as a class, information about events, educational materials or simply every bit of good news. They don’t have to be extraordinarily long emails, just an overview of what has been done and the results.
Maybe you had a group project that the students enjoyed or a school trip where they learned lots of interesting things. Parents love to hear about things like this so be sure that these emails will be well-received.
3. Make positive phone calls
Considering that most parents expect something negative when they get a phone call from a teacher, getting a positive call will be like a breath of fresh air and will go a long way in enhancing the teacher-parent communication and building a strong relationship.
In case of a larger class, focus more on the students that are struggling and need a little bit more encouragement.
I think that making phone calls is a more personal type of communication. Granted, it may be more time consuming but the parents will appreciate your effort and the interest you are taking in their child.
4. Set up a schedule when you can meet face-to-face with the parents
Technology has made communication a whole lot easier but still, nothing beats the ‘old fashioned’ face-to-face chat.
Set up a schedule when you can have a quiet discussion with the parent. Make sure that the parents are aware of these times when they can meet with you.
Also, it would be a good idea to mention to the parents that when they want to meet, they should make an appointment at least 24 hours ahead. It will help you stay better organised.
Of course, you can invite parents to meet with you as well. These face-to-face discussions will surely contribute to a great teacher-parent relationship.
5. Organise Special ‘Open Doors’ days and Celebrations
Nothing brings people together more than a good celebration. Most schools organise Christmas, Easter, Woman’s Day etc celebrations. They’re hard work. I know. But giving the parents the change to see their children all dressed up and performing is invaluable.
In my old school, Christmas and the end of the year celebrations were made in such a manner that the parents had active roles rather than just being passive observers. It was a blast! Parents were delighted that they could sing, perform and play with their children and, not to mention, interact with other moms and dads and their little ones. So, essentially, we’d create a nice, warm community.
When people have fun together and have things in common, then communication happens without any effort.
Another way to enhance the teacher-parent communication and relationship is to organise an ‘Open Doors’ period when parents can simply come to the classroom and observe the lesson. Of course, you will have to create an appointment system as you don’t want 10 parents in your classroom at the same time.
It is up to you to decide how many parents you want observing at one time and for how long.
I know, being observed may not be the most comfortable thing in the world. But to the parents, being able to see what their children do in class and most importantly how they interact with you will be such a valuable experience. Not to mention that it will show that you are like an open book and you genuinely love what you do and you do it well.
6. Involve the parents
All parents want to be part of every aspect of their children’s lives, including school.
Some parents will be delighted to help out however they can so why not give them the chance. Working closely together will be a great opportunity to get to know each other better and form a good teacher-parent bond.
7. Genuinely smile
A smile is a powerful thing. It conveys feelings of happiness and positivity to those around us. A smile makes a person feel welcome and wanted.
When talking to a parent remember to genuinely smile. Most people can tell apart a fake smile, plastered to one’s face, from a real, warm smile.
Your smile will say that you are happy to have a chat and will help the parent relax in your presence.
8. Be empathic
In general, teachers are empathic people. I mean, you can’t do this job well without being able to empathise with your students.
When talking to a parent try to really understand their position. Most parents come to talk to you because they have a concern about their child.
So being empathic and really trying to help will send a good message and form a strong, long-lasting teacher-parent relationship.
9. When talking to a parent, use ‘the cheese sandwich technique’
Let’s assume that the parent of a problematic student has come to talk to you. You have lots of not-so-good things to say about that child. What do you do? Do you just pour them out and be done with it?
When I find myself in this situation, I use ‘the cheese sandwich technique’. The 2 bits of bread are good things about the student and the cheese is the bad part. Basically, what I do is “hide” the bad stuff among the good stuff.
I will start off by saying something positive about the student (bread), followed by something negative and a solution to that (cheese). Lastly, I will end by saying another positive thing (bread).
I found that by doing this, parents don’t tend to get defensive, they will most likely work with me to find solutions.
10. Observe the students
One of the most important things that you, as a teacher, can do in order to establish a good relationship with parents is to demonstrate that you know and care about their children.
Observation is a vital skill that any teacher should have (be sure to read about the 13 Traits of a Top Educator). Writing down notable moments about the children at the end of the day will give you a valuable record when talking to a parent. The parent will appreciate your knowledge about their child.
When teachers and parents form a partnership, the benefits are incredible for the child’s wellbeing.