Enhancing Parent-Teacher Relationships

One of the toughest things any educator has to deal with on a day-to-day basis are the parents. Oftentimes, parents may be difficult to work with, or worse, not present at all. Coming from a special education background, I have found that a lot of my parents have had such negative experiences with their child's education. Between fighting to get their kid services, or desperation to steer their child away from the dreaded "label", it takes a toll on the relationship between teacher and parent. Today, I want to talk about parent-teacher relationships, communication, and parent involvement. This post will focus on gaining parents' trust, getting them involved in their child's education as much as possible, and building a strong ally in your classroom's parents. 


Building Trusting Relationships

I've dealt with my fair share of irate parents in the past. More often than not, the parent is angry at the system, the district, or their situation, not at you. Regardless of the reason, there are some things you must keep in mind when you are dealing with a frustrated, overwhelmed, and/or emotional parent:

  • Keep calm. It is so important that, as the educator, you are the calming voice in the conversation. These parents are emotional- and rightfully so! It does no good to become emotional yourself. You need to be the presence in the conversation that is sound and even-tempered. Just as you would with your kiddos to help regulate their emotions, do the same with their parents.
  • Be sympathetic. Put yourself in their shoes (or be empathetic if you've been in a similar situation). Imagine you are the parent of a child who is struggling- what types of emotions do you think you would be experiencing? Often, I would hear parents talk about their struggles with school districts, funding issues, hospitalizations, social rejection, and the like, and though I couldn't relate, I could sympathize. Having this mindset going into a parent meeting, IEP, or phone call home can really make you appreciate the parent, situation, and their need to be heard.
  • Validate their feelings. Whatever the parent is gong through, it has validity. It doesn't matter if you think they are overreacting or being ridiculous. You don't have to agree with them, but you do need to validate their opinions, emotions, and words. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone belittle or patronize your feelings. Sometimes, all we need is to be validated.
  • Listen. Have you ever gone home to your significant other complaining about your tough day? Usually, all you want to do is complain and vent, not necessarily solve any issiues. This is the same with many parents. Often, there is no solution, or if there is, the parent is not at the point in which they are ready to accept the help. Lots of times parents just need someone to listen to their feelings and concerns. This does NOT translate to "allow parents to berate you" - you need to use your discretion. However, a listening ear goes a long way to building a positive and trusting relationship.
  • Support. This is a no-brainer - but be supportive. This will look different in different situations. You may just be there to listen to the parent- that may be all they need. You may need to provide them with suggestions for interventions to use at home. You may refer them to other resources and/or services the school may provide. You may even just provide a person (not too personal) story about a time you went through something similar. Anything that you can do to show support will go a long way! To get a free list to send home to parents, click the image at the bottom of this post.

Parent Communication

While it seems like an easy task, communication with parents is on of the quickest, most effective ways to build a positive relationship. It shows you care about their child's well-being, and that you appreciate their time. However, this task is one that many educators put on the back burner, as other, high-priority tasks move up the To Do List. Here are some ways to ensure you communicate regularly with your parents:
  • Have a set day that you call parents. This is not always feasible, especially with a large classroom, but it can go a long way. In the past, I had smaller class sizes, so this worked for me. These phone calls were not for behavioral updates - those are handled the same they occur. Instead, these are just to check in with the parent, give them an informal update on their child's school week. I usually tried to provide a funny quote or positive moment form the past few days. With a larger group of kids, you may consider splitting your calls into 2 groups, and call each group every other week. I understand this is not always doable- that is a lot of time and effort when you have so many things you need to do! If you are able to provide the time, I would consider doing so.
  • Weekly notes. This can be a weekly journal, or simply and end-of-the-week note home. The important thing with the notes is that the student is filling them out as well! Each day (I did this at the end of each school day, scheduling this time during the dismissal routine), have your students log each day's happenings on the sheet. This can be as informative as you would like. On Friday, have the student take the sheet home and review the information with their parents. I have provided a sample of a weekly note sheet for free below.
  • Daily Point Sheets. This is a main-stay in many special education classrooms, but can be beneficial to other classrooms as well. This is a way that teacher's use to communicate with parents daily on their child's day, without having to make a phone call every day. These sheets can be as informative as you want- I used to include academic goals as well as behavioral checks. I also liked to have student reflections as well as teacher reflections, so the student is held accountable and the parent can see how the student perceived his/her day as well.
  • Call for both negative and positive updates. Many parents dead the phone call home. It often means their child has either done something wrong or is the victim of another's wrong-doing. This doesn't have to be the case! Call home randomly to tell a funny story, or something kind that the student did that day. I loved to call home when one of my students reached a new academic achievement. The more you call for positive reasons, the less they will ignore your calls!
  • Thank you notes. Have students write thank you notes to parent volunteers (see below). Make sure you include your own special acknowledgement.
  • Classroom newsletters. Monthly newsletters can provide a quick way for parents to stay informed about their child's school day. It's also a great way to motivate parents to become involved in upcoming events. Select a format you can use month-to-month. I liked to include the following in my newsletters:
    • List any upcoming "no school" days (holidays, early release days, vacations, PD days)
    • Announce special school programs, activities, fundraisers, field trips, special visitors, etc.
    • Ask for parent volunteers for specific events or activities
    • List items on your teacher/classroom wish lists (like tissues, dry erase markers, or notebooks)
    • List your classroom rules, homework policies, Goal of the Month, etc.
    • Have a "Star Student" or "Student of the Week/Month" section
    • Welcome new students or send get well or good luck messages to students who are/have been absent
    • Tell about a new unit you are working on, special activities, or recent accomplishments ("We moved up in our class spelling level!")

Parent Involvement

  • Parent volunteers. At your Open House, Back to School Night, or Parent Conferences, considering having a sign up sheet for parents who are interested in volunteering in your classroom. This is not only a great way to get parents involved, but also can be a big help for you classroom! Have specific tasks designated for Parent Volunteers (such as bulletin board displays, grading papers, laminating and copying, preparing supplies for lessons, etc.). You may even consider holding a mini "workshop" to inform parents of the class schedule, scheduled activities, upcoming projects, student groupings, and your expectations of all school subjects, both academic and behavioral.
  • Learning contract. This may not seem like a way to get parent's involved, but it shows that you care about the students' well-being. By providing a contract to students, you are communicating to parents that you value their child's success while asking parents to help their child accountable at home. By having this document, you can communicate with the parent about behavioral issues while referring to the contract that the parent is already aware of. There are no surprises, which parents can appreciate! Check out the Learning Contract freebie below!
  • Parent Days. In the past, I have done special Parent Breakfasts, Parent Lunch, Parent Read Alouds, or simply Parent of the Day. These different days are ways to celebrate our parents. It doesn't have to be much - just a simple invite to come in and read a story during snack time is sometimes enough to show you care about them. Not all of your parents will be able to participate, or even want to That's okay! It's the thought that counts.
  • Door prize. At your open house, encourage attendance by offering a door prize to those that attend! It can be something simple like a gift card (or even a coupon to a local restaurant), a game for their family, or an activity to do with their child.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Not all parents are going to communicate, be honest, or be present- don't take it personal!
  • Not all parents are going to read your notes home and/or pick up the phone, no matter how sweet and caring it may be. Again, don't take it personal!
  • Building this relationship up front is crucial! Not only will you have time to build your relationships, but by the time any meetings, especially IEPs, come around, you will have the support of a caring parent and will be able to support them in return.

Freebies!

Click the pictures below to check out these great freebies to enhance your relationship with your parents!




ABA at Play: pairing, history of consequences, operant behavior, verbal behavior, visual supports, antecedent manipulations, environmental accommodations, aversive stimuli, motivating operations manipulations, reinforcement, behavior contrast, response effort, self-monitoring, escape-maintained behavior, attention-maintained behavior, social validity, socially-significant behavior

What are some ways you enhance your relationship with parents? Comment below!

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