Getting Parents On Your Side
Strong ties between parents and teachers produce a learning environment that benefits everyone.
By Barry Nitikman
Whether you teach in a school where the parents are heavily involved, or one in which you rarely see them, it is nonetheless highly advantageous for you to do everything in your power to maintain positive relationships with the parents of your kids. Every teacher knows how difficult it can be when parents don’t support us. But, we also know how wonderful it is when they do support us, and when they trust our judgment. It makes everything go so much better.
My object in this article will be to give you some solid strategies that will help you to entice parents to advocate and support you and your class. I have taught classes where parents are a mixed population in terms of income level and education, classes where parental income and education levels are high, and classes made up almost entirely of low-income families where most parents didn't go beyond 5th or 6th grade.
Regardless, I have found that the following ideas apply:
- It is important to stay in contact with parents. Keep them informed. Let them know how their children are doing, where their child is struggling (or shining), and how they can help. This generates parental confidence and trust.
- The more parents trust you, the more cooperation you will get.
- The more cooperation you get from parents, and the more involved they are (in a positive way), the better follow-through you will get. The obvious places of help are with homework, assignment completion, and support on behavior issues. Confidence and trust in the parent/teacher relationship becomes especially important if/when you have a serious issue that arises. If you have had virtually no prior contact with the parents, it may be difficult to enlist their help once there is a crisis.
The feeling you want among your parents is, “Mrs. Jones is not only smart, professional, and really on the ball, but she genuinely likes and cares about my son and is dedicated to seeing him succeed. I am going to do whatever she thinks is necessary to help him.”
For many years, I sent home a Parent-Gram, which included four or five categories, such as:
- Pays attention in class
- Completes his/her work
- Cooperates with others
- Stays on task
Each category was written in either Spanish or English, as necessary. Categories had a scoring option of 1-5 points, followed by a short section where I could make a comment if I wished.
It was always amazing to me how much attention the kids and parents paid to the Parent-Grams. Quite frequently, I would get comments such as “Proud of Riley, but we’re shooting for all 5's next time!” or “Rico told me about the problems he had with this.” When you have parents avidly awaiting that week’s Parent-Gram, and caring about what it says, you have involved parents who are going to support you. Depending on your demographics, I recommend sending the Parent-Gram home in both English and Spanish.
Keeping Parents Involved
Make a point of contacting parents when things are positive, not just when there is a problem. I can’t stress this enough. Parents want to know that you care about their child; that he/she is special, and that you are "with it" so to speak. I did this before the days of email, but nowdays, technology makes this communication so much easier. Hopefully, you have email contact with all or most of your parents, though I recognize that this is not always possible. Regardless, parental contact is important and meaningful. What should prompt a call or email? Nothing dramatic, just things like these:
- “Rex did a great job on his math test today.”
- “I noticed that Luis has been paying attention lately. This is good to see!”
- “James is having a little trouble with his fractions. Can you work with him a little?”
- “Manuel has shown good effort this week!”
These simple messages show the parents that you are thinking about and paying attention to their child. You will be surprised at how delighted parents are with such simple signs of the teacher’s caring. Don’t let lack of Spanish stop you either. Find someone to translate for you if you need it.
In the last few years, I’ve used simple rubber stamps that are easy to order online or get locally. They have messages such as “Fix errors and return,” “Discussed in class,” “Please sign and return,” and “Great work- enjoy!” I’ve found that parents genuinely appreciate not only seeing the work, but understanding whether a corrected assignment is just to look at, or whether an action is needed. For instance, this paper should be returned, this one was discussed already and can be disposed of as desired, this one needs some work, etc. This system avoids parental complaints or confusion. I used to hear, “We get all these papers and I never know what to do with them.” Now, at the beginning of the year, I explain the stamps and messages. Consequently, I rarely have a problem.
Leave No One in the Dark
I believe that parents should not receive any big surprises during conference time; that is, no negative surprises. No parent should sit down and be told out of the blue that their child is in trouble, is way behind, etc. I know that some teachers do everything in their power to contact certain parents to no avail. In this case, the conference is their only opportunity to communicate the message. But generally speaking, parents can be notified ahead of time when there are issues. They will appreciate the foreknowledge, and together you can use the conference time to discuss strategies or follow-through plans.
Show Your Support
A final suggestion I have for you is to attend a student's performance or sporting event. This is not always feasible, but if you have the opportunity, nothing can generate more parent trust and support than seeing you at their son's little league game or at their daughter's play. After that, no parent can possibly believe that you don't like or care about their child.
I'm sure that you will find some of these strategies to be advantageous for you, but I also hope that thinking about this will help you come up with your own ideas and inspirations. Make the effort to get the parents on your side; it will pay off in so many ways.
How do you build and maintain relationships with the parents of your students? Leave a comment below and share your ideas and strategies.
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