How to Be an Effective Ally to Parents

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the importance of a good parent-teacher relationship proves this adage true. Because parents and teachers exist in separate spaces, however, sometimes tension can arise, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ll look at ways that teachers can become effective allies with parents.

 

Why Being an Ally Is Important

 

Image via Flickr by Missouri River Regional Library

Image via Flickr by Missouri River Regional Library

An article published in “Educational Horizons” indicates that all parents, regardless of cultural, racial, or socioeconomic background, have a few common desires for their child’s teacher. Among their wishes are that the teacher respects their family, prioritizes the child’s safety and well-being, and helps their child become responsible, caring, and well educated, and that the teacher is skillful. The question is, how do we meet these expectations?

  1. Listen to Them: As a recent Edutopia post indicated, sometimes the best first step that we can take to becoming an ally with parents is simply to listen and to try to understand the parents’ perspectives. We don’t always have the answers, especially in situations in which there are social and cultural differences. Focusing on listening keeps us from jumping to conclusions or trying to arrive at a “quick fix,” and it requires us to fully immerse ourselves in what the parent is saying. A commitment to following up on the problem – and actually following up – is another trait of a listening educator.
  2. Call About the Good Things: When a teacher calls a parent, it’s usually for something that the child did wrong. Reframe that notion by calling or emailing parents whenever their child does something exceptional. This allows parents to join in celebrating their child’s accomplishment, and it proves that their child is getting the keen attention they deserve.
  3. Create Group Assignments: Another strategy is to create group assignments that involve their family. This might include talking to parents about a historical event that they lived through or having them create a photo collage to describe their family. This way, both the parent and the student will feel they are all involved in the student’s education. The parent will gain an inside look into their student’s classroom, and you as the teacher will have a better understanding of the parent’s background.
  4. Create an Open House: While newsletters are a good way to show parents what’s going on in the classroom, why not have them come to the classroom and experience it firsthand? Art shows, talent shows, or a showcase of other large-scale projects are fun to organize and encourage parents to actively participate in their child’s education. Inviting parents into the classroom for observations throughout the year also conveys an openness to parents, and let’s them see that there is no hidden agenda. What’s more, seeing their child in the classroom context can help parents feel more at ease about their education.
  5. Visit Them in Context: If a classroom visit shows a parent what’s going on in the teacher’s world, a home visit can show a teacher what’s going on in a parent’s world. With parents’ permission, offer to visit their home to understand the environment in which the child lives, and offer a time to talk through the child’s learning process. This can be a time-consuming exercise, but it can create great strides in improving the parent-teacher relationship because it demonstrates a willingness to work with the parents.
  6. Use Collaborative Language: Sometimes teachers do have to call parents with problems they’ve noticed in the classroom, but it is best at these times not to play the blame game. Opening a phone call with a positive observation or anecdote about the student breaks the ice and accentuates positive characteristics of the student’s behavior. When it comes time to describe the problem, phrasing it in a way that makes the child appear appreciated and avoiding attacking or confrontational language is critical. By the end of the call, there should be a collaborative plan ready to go – one in which the teacher and parent can work in concert to improve the child’s behavior.
  7. Think Before a Meeting: Empathy is important, especially when dealing with an agitated parent. It’s easy to let your own position blind you as a teacher and not to see the situation from the parent’s point of view. But remember that while you are the one who has a unique perspective on a child’s classroom behavior, the parent has a unique perspective on their behavior at home. This, in turn, should serve as two pieces of an important puzzle; working on the same team to put them together will give you the complete picture. Before meeting with a parent, take time to consider your own expectations if you were in their shoes. How would you want a teacher to approach a problem with your own child? Understanding both sides of the issue can help when dealing with frustrated, embarrassed, angry, or worried parents.
  8. Learn About the Child From the Parent: Talk with parents about their child. Discover what things the child enjoys, what excites the child, and what things are meaningful to their child. Offer parents a questionnaire on which they can offer their feedback about just who their child is and how they learn. Parents often have ideas about how their child should be taught, and while this can often feel like a lack of respect for your training as a teacher, these ideas at the very least can inform or integrate into your approach. If a child is struggling in math, for instance, the parents’ insight that the child enjoys music may inspire a song about math that helps the child better understand mathematical concepts.
  9. Treat Them Like Adults: Too often, when a parent comes to the classroom for a meeting, they sit in desks or child-sized chairs. Not only can this be physically uncomfortable, it can also arouse bad memories of their own student days, making them anxious or agitated. Choose a meeting location that respects them and treats them like adults.

In Short

Parents and teachers don’t exist in vacuums, so there should be a direct bridge between home and school. Allying with parents creates a strong parent-teacher rapport, helps the child flourish academically, and offers valuable insight into each student’s life. It’s good for one, and

3 Comments

  1. David

    March 25, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Used to teach in the classroom before and I found the best way to engage the parent was with a tactful approach. Never start with anything negative about the student. Always ease into it. I agree with listening to what they have to say and understanding where they are coming from. Great post!

  2. Cynthia

    March 27, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Well written. It is so important to connect with the parent. As an educator, when speaking with a parent, I have found that tactful honesty is best. I agree with always starting and ending the conversation with positive points. As a parent, I don’t want nebulous statements about my child. I want to hear what a teacher has to say. I want the teacher to be direct and honest. And yes, both the teacher and the parent should treat each other with respect. If the parent is asked to sit in a child-size chair, so should the teacher. Remember, both should be working as a team to encourage and enhance the student learning.

  3. Horacio

    April 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Great article, thanks Leigh Ann. I believe parental engagement is key to a student’s success, and there’s plenty of research that supports this. So anything that helps teachers better engage with parents helps in this endeavor.

    This is what inspired us to create Bloomz, a few new app that connects parents and teachers in a secure and private environment. Our goal is to close the bridge between the school and home, at the same time we help teachers save time and help parents feel more connected with their kids’ education.