By Julia Wilkins
Whether or not you have taken a course in how to build relationships and communicate with parents, you might find yourself feeling completely unprepared. Because parental involvement in school is positively associated with student achievement, it is important to know how to build relationships with parents to facilitate their involvement. An important point to remember is that “parents” can mean grandparents, stepparents, foster parents, and more.
Before you can effectively communicate with parents, you need to know their preferred method of communication, whether they have Internet access, and what language they primarily speak. You can get this information from a paper or Google Forms survey, translated into different languages, with images if necessary.
Below are six recommendations for creating relationships with parents.
- Communicate regularly.
Maintain regular contact with parents through a classroom app, such as Class Dojo. Some parents prefer emails and text messages and, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your personal phone number, you can use an app such as SchoolStatus, which keeps your number private. If parents can’t come to the school for meetings, offer to meet them through video chat.
Remember to contact parents when you have good news to share. For a personal touch, buy cards in thrift stores and mail notes to parents. You might be the first teacher to contact them with positive messages about their child!
- Address issues immediately.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to informing parents about a problem with their child. To alleviate the stress of having difficult conversations with parents, plan beforehand what you will say and how you will discuss the issue in a sensitive, nonjudgmental way. If parents claim they have never seen that type of behavior at home, don’t get defensive. Just stick to the facts (good record-keeping will help you) and stress that you want to work together to help their child be successful. Then, brainstorm solutions with them.
- Involve parents in decisions.
Let parents know they have a say in the decisions that are made. You can make suggestions, such as, “We could try a reward system,” and then get parents’ input. After you agree upon a course of action, follow up with parents to let them know how things are going. This will let them know they can depend on you to follow through with plans and, once they recognize you as dependable and trustworthy, your relationship will begin to grow.
- Be friendly and responsive.
Make it clear to parents that you value their experiences and opinions. Some parents may not see teachers as allies (Goss, 2019). It is therefore important to be friendly and use everyday language (avoid acronyms like FBA and BIP) when talking to them. Share your contact information and make your accessibility known.
Sometimes the best way to respond is simply to listen to parents’ concerns. Don’t feel you have to come up with solutions immediately. You can tell parents you need time to think about the issue and will get back to them. You can then get advice for how to respond on a teacher support group, such as the We Are Teachers Helpline on Facebook.
- Recognize parents’ cultural backgrounds.
Lack of English fluency can be a barrier to school involvement for parents. There are also cultural differences in terms of what parents believe their responsibility is. Smith and colleagues (2008) found that Hispanic parents saw their role as supervising their children’s homework and teaching them to behave appropriately.
Even this type of home-based parental involvement is positively correlated with students’ educational success (Day & Dotterer, 2018). To validate parents’ efforts, you can send thank-you notes in parents’ native languages, using Google Translate.
- Provide support for parents.
Check in periodically with parents to see what support they need to help their children at home. They may not know what homework students are being assigned or how to help them with it. Provide video tutorials or workshops to explain things, and share websites that students can use, such as Khan Academy for math and Read Write Think for English.
Spend some time online compiling resources for counseling services, community programs, cultural and language services, and adult education programs so you have them ready to share with parents if needed.
Communicating with parents might be daunting, but if you build a positive rapport through regular and open communication, the trust you establish will go a long way to solidifying your relationships.
Dr. Wilkins is an Associate Professor of Education at Presbyterian College. She teaches courses on literacy, teaching methods, and special education.
Day, E., & Dotterer, A. M. (2018). Parental involvement and adolescent academic outcomes: Exploring differences in beneficial strategies across racial/ethnic groups. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(6), 1332–1349.
Goss, A. C. (2019). Power to engage, power to resist: A structuration analysis of barriers to parental involvement. Education & Urban Society, 51(5), 595–612.
Smith, J., Stern, K., & Shatrova, Z. (2008). Factors inhibiting Hispanic parents’ school involvement. Rural Educator, 29(2), 8–13.