Talking With Students' Parents Can Be Uncomfortable. Do It Anyway.
This is the second of a five-part conversation on how teachers can communicate effectively with parents.
We have all experienced, at some point in our careers, "that parent." They take many forms: the helicopter, the over-reactor, the under-reactor, the mama bear, the "my child is perfect, it must be you" parent. As a special educator and advisor, I have had numerous interactions with parents, some bad, some good, but what they share in common is that all are parents advocating for their learner.
As I reflect on these interactions, it occurs to me that I have learned something from each interaction. It is these interactions that have helped me to build learning partnerships with many parents.
As in life, in education relationships provide the basis for what we can accomplish. When I think back on my own learning, it was the teachers who built relationships with me, and included my parents, who had the biggest impact on my education. As a parent, it is the teachers who take an interest in my child outside of school, as well as in school, who have influenced her and consequently me the most. We know the importance of building these relationships with our students, but building similar relationships with parents is just as important.
In preparing to become an educator, I took classes in methods, curriculum, assessment, psychology, special education, and literacy, to name a few. Although these courses prepared me to teach content to students, they did not teach me how to build relationships with students, colleagues or parents, which I consider the most important part of our job as educators. It wasn't until I had been teaching for several years, and had several awkward interactions with parents, that the importance of establishing relationships with parents became clear to me.
How do you prepare someone to build relationships? Teacher preparation programs in my region are beginning to see that a one semester student teaching opportunity is not sufficient in preparing someone to become an educator. Student interns are now required to spend a full school year in a school with a mentor. They are required to participate in all professional development and activities that their mentor teacher attends. These requirements still do not require the level of interaction with parents needed to build the relationships necessary for creating that learning partnership.
Developing positive relationships with parents requires honesty and transparency. The honesty and transparency begin with students and carry over to interactions with parents. When parents see that you care about their child, and want the same outcome, they are more willing to partner with you and work as a team when events may not be positive for their child. I find keeping communication open allows parents, especially high school parents, to feel a part of their child's education.
Email has facilitated the building of relationships with parents in a way that previously available communication tools have not allowed. At the beginning of the school year, I often send emails to all parents, introducing myself, if needed, and describing my role with their child, and how I can help their child be a successful student during the school year. It opens up communication in a positive way, and helps parents see me as an additional advocate for their child.
Many teachers find communicating with parents one of the most uncomfortable requirements of the profession. Positive and constructive communicating with parents allows more flexibility if an issue were to arise. Parents who trust their child's teacher are much more supportive of schools and education, than those who are suspicious of the system. By building relationships and keeping the communication lines open and honest, parents feel included and involved in their child's education.
Beth is a special educator and teacher leader at Vergennes Union High School, in Vergennes, Vt. Beth also works with the district leadership team to develop professional development opportunities for teachers. Beth's new favorite personal professional development tool is Twitter. You can follow her @AdreonBeth.