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Dealing with Parents: Your Guide to Effective Parent-Teacher Relationships

Before being a pre-service teacher in the field, I thought dealing with adults was easy. This was however until I realized many adults of all ages do not only double as my peers, but as a parent of a student - a student I could one day come into contact with in my classroom. This student could either thrive in my class or struggle, or have a dream they desire to reach - with or without parental support. Either way, in today's society, there is the growing trend that both the parent and the student now face the demanding pressure to ensure excellent grades are achieved. With students coming from a variety of backgrounds, whether it is a newly mixed family, or a single parent home, teachers face the never ending obstacle of building success for all students in their classroom. But how can this be done without proper formal or informal communication with parents? That is one of the many loaded questions for teachers and parents in today's society. If you come up with the ultimate answer to this so-called loaded question, please post your answer below. However, in the mean time, here are my six tips to close the communication gap between teachers and parents:

Initial Letter
While out on my first practicum, I realized that one of the tactics teachers can use to help ensure a clear connection is made with parents from the start of the year, is through a communication method that is often viewed as a rather ancient art form. This transmission method, as scary as it may seem, is very basic at its core. It is a letter written by you, the teacher, and mailed to the parents of your students. Now, if it's too scary to bite the bullet and place a stamp on the envelop to send your letters the old-fashioned way through Canada Post, you can give this communication method a face lift through the use of modern technology. Although emailing is not necessarily my favorite form of communication to start with, it can be very helpful as well, so use whatever mailing method you are most comfortable with. Now that the parental receiving agent is decided upon, we can now move onto the most important aspect: the letter itself. This letter should outline your expectations in class, ranging from behavioral to how you will asses your students, as well as how they can contact you during the school year. Therefore, when situations arise throughout the year regarding grading or behavioral issues, you can point the parents back to your initial letter to answer some of their questions before discussing the issues in full depth.

Always Follow Up
The second item on my list is placed in a very fitting position after the initial letter. The question now becomes, 'How is sending an initial letter home (or anything home) helpful if the teacher does not follow up with the parent to ensure the information was received?' This leads me to the next important tip when dealing with parents: Always, always, always follow up! The method you choose to use to follow up is entirely up to you. Are you comfortable with sending a simple email home? Or perhaps you could get creative and run a survey online or through a phone app? Another option could be picking up the phone and speaking with your students' parents directly. Whatever follow-up option you choose, it is important to remember that you can always follow up without it being incredibly time consuming.

Make Yourself Available
Truth be told, being a teacher is a rather demanding profession. Not only is it time consuming, but it is incredibly socially exhausting for introverts and extroverts alike. While spending time in the classroom, I noticed this incredible need for students to be plugged into social media at all times. Although, some schools may have rules discouraging phones in class, this does not change the fact that students participate actively on social media during most hours of the day. As a result, students have a built-in expectation that their teacher will always be available, not only during school hours, but after hours as well. The concept of a teacher having down time, let alone needing down time, seems almost impossible for students to understand. Therefore, teachers need to be creative to work around this demanding student and parent need. So, how can this be done? One of the ways this can be done is through embracing one of the many free phone apps. In the phone age, there are apps such as 'Remind' which allows teachers, parents and students to send messages back and forth without exchanging phone numbers. Apps such as 'Remind' allow the sender to send out group or individual messages where the sender gets to decide if the receivers have the option to reply or not. 'Remind' allows students, teachers, and parents to get a hold of each other at any time while keeping a respectful, professional boundary.

Notes Home
Penmanship? Is that even a skill taught to students these days? Now, do not worry about your hand writing, you are a teacher with a university degree (or most likely two). Your version of “messy writing” is incredibly different than a students version of illegible handwriting. Remember, no one is marking you on your penmanship. The basic point of a note home is for parents or guardians to be in the 'educational' loop. Notes can be as simple as:

  • Johnny is struggling with addition. An extra worksheet has been sent home with him today.
  • Sarah did well on her reading comprehension quiz.
  • Tommy needs to spend extra time practicing his Bb major scale. Please ensure he takes out his trombone to practice for at least 10 minutes a day this week outside of school.

Who said notes have to be a bad thing? If teachers use notes to communicate with parents or guardians the successes of the student, as well their areas for improvement, notes can become a part of your classroom routine and will not always be viewed in a negative light. Notes will then be viewed as more of a tool to connect with parents on a wide range of topics. It will, therefore, allow students to feel secure enough to ensure their parents receive the notes sent home. So why not make sending notes home a part of your classroom routine?

Do Not Avoid Dealing with Crucial Conversations
To be completely honest, I originally wanted to tell you to deal with conflict that arises directly. However, I then realized that dealing with conflict directly was not the most accurate wording for this section. Upon reflection, I realized that if I called this section 'Dealing with Conflict Directly', that would imply a certain amount of aggression. Since it is important for teachers, parents, and students to all work together in a harmonious relationship, I decided to go with the title, 'Do Not Avoid Dealing with Crucial Conversations'. While I was on my first practicum, it was brought to my attention that eighty percent of the time, parents are on the teachers' side. This most likely means most conflicts that arise between parents and teachers, are oftentimes misunderstandings due to poor communication. However, even if there is a misunderstanding, that does not mean that emotions do not run strong, stakes are not high, and that opinions do not vary. Let's think about it for a second. While you are teaching a grade 8 class you tell a student to be quiet because they are talking over you. Since respecting others is a rule every student has to adhere to in your classroom, you are simply enforcing a behavioral expectation laid out at the start of the school year. Since science proves that grade eights are hormonal miniature adults, they'll go home and tell their parents that you are mad at them. Since parents will most likely believe their child before their teacher, you now have a situation to deflate. You may now have a phone call or a face to face meeting with a parent or guardian. What do you do? Through life experience, I have learned that no one should approach any issue with a defensive attitude. This is especially true when dealing with parents (or the sometimes dreaded parent-student combo). It is important to approach all issues that arise with an open mind, and to understand that there are two sides to every story regarding what happened in class. There is the students' perception and how your actions made them feel, and there is your perception as the teacher of how their actions or behavior made you feel. If my logic is accurate, then most issues could be resolved by entering into a conversation where mutual purpose is established that allows each side of the story to be respectfully heard and understood. The discussion could start as simply as, “What happened in class?” or, “What were you told happened in class?” This allows for the parent and/or student to feel they are being understood before the teacher expresses their feelings. The teacher could then move into a three-step explanatory dialogue expressing how they currently feel, how they felt at the time, and what they have found to be helpful in the past in order to move forward. At the end of the day, the important thing when dealing with parents is create mutual purpose through expressing that you, the teacher, ultimately desires their child's success in your class.

Expressing Appreciation Can Go a Long Way
When dealing with parents, it is important to remember that they are people too. They have their own thoughts, opinions, responsibilities, and feelings. Therefore, it is important to express appreciation to a parent for doing something that made your job as a teacher easier. This could be something as simple as a parent volunteering their time to chaperone on a field trip, helping with fund raising, or ensuring a difficult student was doing their homework every evening. Whatever the situation, it is important to communicate a simple 'thank you' to the parent or guardian whenever expressing appreciation is appropriate. This could be through a thank you card, an email, a message through the 'Remind' app, or sending a note home with a student. There are many methods that will work in sending words of appreciation to a parent. What really matters is that the message is delivered. Parents are people too, and expressing appreciation for them should always be on the priority list.


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