Parent-teacher relationships are an important aspect of students' success—maybe even more important than the teacher's relationship with students. The start of a new school year brings with it the opportunity for educators to set the tone for creating strong parent-teacher relationships.
I asked Barry Saide, a former elementary school teacher and current director of curriculum and instruction for Tabernacle School District in Tabernacle, New Jersey, and Andrea Bazemore, a kindergarten teacher at Uplift Mighty, a free, public charter school in Forth Worth, Texas, to share their thoughts.
Your Promise to Parents
As the person in charge of their child for much of the day, it's important to come to an agreement about what parents should expect from you.
Practice Open Communication
Saide and Bazemore both commented on the importance of staying connected with parents. Use the time at back-to-school night to get the ball rolling. Explain how you'll differentiate your instruction on academic, behavioral, social, and emotional levels, Saide says, and provide a clear picture of what the classroom day looks like and why.
Part of open communications via regular emails, phone calls, meetings, and even social media, is making sure that parents see teaching and learning as a process that sometimes involves failure.
"Just because I taught it doesn't mean students learned it, nor were they always supposed to," Saide says. "Sometimes, introduction to content means grappling with ideas, abstract thoughts, or making meaning. Learning should be about continual growth, not initial or overall mastery."
Bazemore adds that open communication makes parents feel like you're on their side, building trust even when the dialogue may be difficult.
"I want to let my parents know that I will talk to them about anything in regard to the education of their child, good or bad," she says. "If I see that development is not keeping up the pace to others, it's my responsibility to speak about it."
Provide a Welcoming Space to Learn
Making sure that kids are comfortable in their academic environment is important, Bazemore stresses. School should feel like their home away from home. "Many parents will tell their children that I am their second mom," she says, "and I don't take that responsibility lightly."
The kids themselves should take part in making their surroundings comfortable for learning, Saide notes. They can show parents how they've mapped the classroom's layout (right down to where loose-leaf paper is stored) as an example of what true student-centered classroom design looks like, and to give parents a window into what it's like to be their child in this classroom.
Be Committed to the School, Classroom, and Children
When teachers quit in the middle of the year, it sows parental distrust in the educational system. "Letting parents know that not only am I committed to filling the educational duties but that I will do everything in my power to give kids the best education possible puts parents at ease," Bazemore says. That commitment should extend to being a part of your students' community as much as possible.
Bazemore attends any after-school activities she's invited to and even has coached basketball.
Your Expectations of Parents
Now that parents know what they can expect from you, share the expectations you have for them.
Ask for Help Getting to Know Your Students
Teachers appreciate parents helping them understand their kids. Saide, for example, would send home a "Getting to Know Your Child" handout each year, with questions that helped him see children through their parents' eyes.
"[The handouts] helped guide me when forming initial individual relationships," he says. He might learn, for instance, that a child likes to work more at home, so he'd find additional resources to extend the student's classroom learning.
If there's something going on at home that's impacting your child, Bazemore asks that parents alert her. It may not be necessary to confide specific details. But if teachers at least know that some type of situation exists, they can take steps to help stressed children.
Be on the Same Page
Clarity, consistency, and fairness on everyone's part are crucial when parents and teachers interact, Saide says.
"Children can become easily confused or feel loyalty torn when it seems their parent(s) are on a different page than their teacher," he says. "I've always asked parents to communicate to me when they didn't agree or understand what they believed was transpiring in the classroom. We're here to work together to do what's best for their child."
Bazemore has occasionally dealt with parents who wouldn't cooperate to help their child meet classroom expectations, despite her providing resources to guide their kids. "The student ended up suffering," she says. Fortunately, those are the rare cases, with most parents appreciating the opportunity to work together with her.
Remember: Teachers Are People Too
Teaching is a high-stress job. And like everyone else, teachers have outside commitments and familial expectations that add to the pressure. Sometimes, despite trying, it's hard to get the balance right.
"I don't believe anyone goes into work each day saying, 'I'm going to do my best mediocre job today,'" Saide says. Teachers have to own their mistakes, of course, and apologize and learn from them, he says. But it helps when parents show a little understanding if teachers make a misstep.
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As a teacher, working with parents is a two-way street. Use these tips to form a strong relationship, and your child will benefit your child in many ways.