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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In honor of Edutopia's 20th anniversary, we're producing a series of Top 20 lists, from the practical to the sublime.


Twenty Tips for Developing Positive Relationships with Parents

In our busy day of juggling papers, lesson planning and managing sometimes more than a hundred students, we can easily forget the group that could lend significant support in our charge as teachers -- parents and families. Consider these tips for improving connections with this valuable group:

1. Smile When You See Parents
Greet them. Most parents only occasionally interact with teachers so make sure that at least 90 percent of your encounters with them are positive, warm, and friendly. The impressions left from fleeting encounters in the hallway last a long time.

2. Learn Their Names
(If you have a self-contained class.) Learn how they like to be addressed (Mr. ____? Señora? By their first name?) and how to pronounce them correctly.

3. Declare Your Intention
Tell them that you want to partner with them, that you appreciate their support, and look forward to working together.

4. Communicate Often and in Various Forms
Provide information about what's going on in your class (weekly would be ideal): what students are learning, what they've accomplished, what you're excited about, what they're excited about, and the learning and growth you're seeing. Suggest things that they might ask their child about: "Ask them to tell you about what they learned last week about meal worms," or "Ask them to read you the haiku they wrote."

5. Make a Positive Phone Call Home
If you have a self-contained class, call all homes within the first couple of weeks and then at regular intervals throughout the year. If you teach many students, identify those students who perhaps need a positive call home.

6. Lead with the Good News
Give positive praise first when calling parents or meeting with them to discuss a concern. Every kid has something good about him/her. Find it. Share it. Then share your concern. Adhere strictly to this rule.

7. Find a Translator
If you can't speak their language, seek a translator for at least one parent conference and/or phone call. (For obscure languages, you can sometimes find a refugee center or other public agency that can help). Reach out to those parents as well; do whatever you can to connect.

8. Your Language is Powerful
It communicates an awareness that there are many different kinds of families. Be careful not to assume a mother is, or isn't married, or even that if she is married, she's married to a man. Learn to ask open-ended questions and understand that sometimes parents/guardians might not want to share some information.

9. Ask Questions about the Child
"What kinds of things does he enjoy doing outside of school? Who are the special people in her life -- family or family friends? What do you think are her best characteristics? What was he like as a little boy?" Demonstrate an interest in knowing your student.

10. Listen to Parents
Really listen. They know a whole lot about their kid.

11. Smile at the Child When talking to a parent in front of a child, smile and make eye contact with the student to demonstrate that you care about him/her. Recognize what he/she has done well in your class in front of the parents. Then share a concern, if you have one.

12. Invite Parents to Share
Distribute a survey at the beginning of the year (if parents don't read/write in English, students can interview them and relay their answers). Find out what parents know about and what skills they have. Invite them in especially if it connects the curriculum and content. Let them share with you their cultural traditions, interests, passions, skills, knowledge.

13. Let Parents Know How They Can Help
Many want to help but especially as kids get older, parents aren't asked for help as often and don't know what to do. There's always some way they can help in the classroom.

14. Be Very Specific
Provide ways parents can support their child at home: "You can help your child with her math homework by asking her to explain how she got an answer," or "As you're reading stories at night, ask your child to make predictions. This strengthens reading comprehension."

15. Be a Broker of Resources
If they share a concern, be prepared to point them to a direction where they can find help. If you share a concern ("Your daughter spaces out and doesn't pay attention") be prepared to suggest what the parents can do.

16. Explain Your Instructional Decisions
Take the time to do this and help them learn about the education system if they're not familiar with it. Help them understand what you're doing and why.

17. Invite Parents to Participate in Making Some Decisions
Invite their input, give them information that will help them form an opinion, and listen to their conclusions.

18. Thank Parents
Both individually and publicly for their support, perhaps in your weekly newsletter. Recognize what they do to help your class and how it's impacting students.

19. Share Every Success
Let parents know what their child is doing well, what academic skills, social skills or knowledge he's mastered.

20. Invite Parents to Celebrate and Break Bread Together
Communities are strengthened when people come together in celebration. Start the year with a potluck. Share food and stories about food. We all bond over food.

Comments (9)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Frieda E Harris's picture

Research indicates that children are more successful in school when their parents communicate with their teacher and become involved in their child's educational process. Good parent/teacher communication is critical in the improved teacher student relationship. Better teacher/student relationship results from positive parent and teacher communication that could make a vital difference in the overall child's future.

Another way to effectively improve parent/teacher relationships is the use of technology. Many school districts have instituted the use of "Edline.com" which gives parents access to their child's grades/reports. Parents have the option of communicating with teachers through this valuable educational tool. It helps open channels of communication between the teachers, parents, and students.

Here are some additional tips for developing positive relationships with parents:

1.It is important to let the parent know that you are genuinely interested in their child and the child's progress.

2.Ensure that you will help the child in any way with their difficulties.

3.Always make eye contact with the parent when talking to them in person.

4.Establish respect by addressing the parents as Mr., Mrs., or Miss.

5.Have an open door policy where the parents can feel comfortable discussing their child with you at any time. If a child has a special need, ensure the parent that their child's educational need will be met.

6.Let the parents know what your goals are from the beginning.

7.Ask questions about the child (i.e. likes, dislikes, hobbies, home responsibilities).

8.Invite the parents to the classroom so they can see the classroom environment.

9.Invite parents to visit the classroom once a month and sit in on lesson discussions. If the parent has a disability, offer to assist them in anyway to make them confortable.

10.Be honest with the parents when discussing their child.

11.Do not be late for parent/teacher conferences.

12.Monthly send positive memos home to keep the parents informed of their child's progress.

13.Encourage parent/child board games to help build vocabulary skills, i.e..scrabble,upwords,boggle.

14.Keep the parents informed of the accomplishments citing areas that need improvement.

15.Keep a positive attitude when talking about the child.

16.Talk to parents often and be polite.

17.Invite parents to celebrate birthdays in the classroom.

18.If the parents have trouble speaking English, be patient and ask someone for help.

19.Let the parents know that you appreciate their help by sending a thank you note home or acknowledging them in a PTA meeting.

20.At the end of every person to person meeting, thank them for their time with a warm handshake.

21.Walk them(parents,guardian)to the door.

22.Ask for permission for a home visit monthly with students who are having difficulties.

23.Establish areas where the child has the most problems and work with the parents to find a solution. When parents ask questions about their child, answer precisely and accurately. Help parents to feel important in their child's education.

24.If a parent calls you and you are unavailable, be courteous and return the call.

25.Encourage the parents to look over homework for neatness,completeness, and accuracy.

Karla's picture
Karla
High School Career & Technical Education Teacher

I have also heard that a student has a greater tendency to succeed when his or her parent takes an active role in their education. As a mother of four school-aged children, I try to do my very best in keeping abreast of what they are learning, as well as keeping open lines of communication with my children's teachers.

I just started my first year teaching, and out of roughly 140 students, I have only met or been in contact with about seven parents. This truly saddens me, but understand this is the way things are in the location where I teach. I have a feeling that the parents will be hearing more from me than I will be hearing from them.

I am appreciative of these great tips for interacting with parents and do hope I will have an opportunity to put them to practice!

Debra Cooper's picture
Debra Cooper
HS and MS ESL teacher in Washingtonville NY

I too have had this problem. So many parents do not want to come to school for open houses or parent teacher conferences. It makes having a relationship with your parent population almost impossible. As a parent myself, I try attend as many school meetings and functions as possible. If parents do not show children they are interested in their education, how can we expect the children themselves to be interested.
This is a great list for new and old teachers. Sometimes we teachers get so focused on what the students are not accomplishing or not doing well in, that we have to be reminded to let parents know that their students are doing well... our HS only sends progress reports in between report cards for failing grades, there is nothing for student who are working hard...

Elke Miglionico O'Connell's picture
Elke Miglionico O'Connell
Seventh grade social studies teacher

It is very important to have the support of parents. They are a partner in their child's education. Communication is one of the best tools we have. We need to let parents know that they are a vital part of their child's education. There were many good tips for old and new teachers on establishing a relationship with parents. Many of these tips I have done and some of them I can't wait to try.

Julie Solarek's picture

All of these ideas were great. One of my greatest focuses as a teacher is my relationship with families. I can be very hard on myself about the effort I am putting in to the relationship because I often feel that it is one sided. However, as I read over your checklist I felt positive about my efforts because many of your suggestions I was doing already. I look forward to sharing your ideas with my co-workers.

Larissa Miller's picture
Larissa Miller
4th grade Science and Social Studies Teacher in Tennessee

I think all of these tips are great ideas, and in most cases work to get parents involved and on your team, but what do we do in the cases where the parents are still not motivated to get involved? As teachers, is there anything else we can do to let parents know we would like a partnership with them in their child's education. There are several children at my school whose parents have never been seen or heard from at our school. I have even made home visits and the parents still do not care to work with me to help their children. It is the most frustrating and challenging part of teaching I face daily. I would appreciate any suggestions of strategies or activities that work to get parents involved.

Kathleen's picture

Thank you! What a great list! This is a wonedrful starting point for new teachers or communities that struggle with parednt involvement, like mine. Oned strategy we just camed up with, but didn't haved thed chance to try was sending positivedd post cards home. Oned teacher on thed team camed write a few positive comments in the parents' language and the rset will sign. Quick, easy, and impactful...wed have yet to start this, but I will post again as follow up.

Becky's picture
Becky
4th grade math and science teacher from Westover, Maryland

I have done several of the items on your list, but I have to say that I love the one about knowing their names and saying them correctly. Some people in life feel that a name is all you have in the world and it is the one thing no one can take away from you. Thanks for the list and I can't wait to try some of them out and see how my parent involvement improves.

Chantal Flowers's picture
Chantal Flowers
8th Grade Math Teacher

Thank you so much for the tips. As a first year teacher, going into conferences has been very intimidating for me. Going forward, I will keep these tips in mind to ensure parent conferences stay on topic and focused on how to best help the student.

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