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Five Tips for Developing Great Relationships With Parents This Year

Establishing a solid relationship with the parents and guardians of your students is an absolutely essential element of the 21st century classroom. Authentic learning is a community effort, which means that each student's support teamteachers, administrators, counselors, guardians, friends—all need to be working toward the same goals. For the teacher, this means reaching out.

1.  First Impressions

Your school might already have a district-sponsored “parent night” when classes start in the fall, but don’t feel like you have to allow that to define what your parent contact looks like. A general invite to parents to talk about your class will consistently improve parent engagement in your work. Make sure you introduce yourself at the beginning of the school year. Things to consider discussing when meeting parents for the first time:

  • Where are they from? What do they do? What’s their story?
  • What are their personal and academic goals for their student?
  • What values do they look to instill in their student?
  • Clarify and receive feedback on classroom (and schoolwide) protocols and expectations.
  • Share and receive feedback on your goals as an academic facilitator.
  • Clarify your availability and collaborate on communication preferences (see #2 below).

2.  Plan for Connection

Clear communication is the staple for every teacher-parent-student team. But this year, be sure to thoroughly explore exactly how each team prefers to connect. Never assume that what is convenient for you will automatically be convenient for the families. We’ve reviewed quite a variety of free communication-enhancing apps for the classroom, but there are many other details to consider, including:

  • Preferred method of contact: Text, email, phone calls, social media?
  • Frequency of contact: Weekly? Monthly? Bimonthly?
  • Establishing contact timeframes: When are they available?
  • Discussion content: What do we talk about?

The last bullet point can be especially important to address at the beginning of the year. What kind of information do parents want updates on? Discipline and behavior? Just grades? General class updates, regarding units and big projects? When classes begin, find out what your parents are especially interested in knowing about their child. If the team can clarify this up front, all parties will be much more comfortable in the long run.

3.  Plan Parent Events

Again, remember that your parent contact does not have to be dictated by a district. In fact, it tends to feel a lot more comfortable when it's not! Find time throughout the semester to celebrate education with parents and students! Can you put together a poetry night after your Harlem Renaissance unit? Might students put on a short play in French? Could parents serve on a grading panel for your final debates? Might parents be a good audience for a review game competition a couple days before an exam? All of these things remind parents that your classroom is open to them. That they belong.

Of course, you’ll need to find a balance here, which will depend on the availability of the parents in your community. If there are too many events, participation might dwindle. However, a fairly foolproof and time-honored method of attracting families to these events is through – you guessed it – food. The added bonus of not having to cook dinner for the family for a night, while having fun with your kids and other parents can be a welcome addition to any long week.

4.  Be a Community Resource

Parents want to help their student in your classroom. And yet, the education system changes every year. The classroom of ten years ago hardly even resembles the classroom of today. You, as the teacher, can be a great resource for making sure that the parents have the tools they need to support their children at home. A part of this is clear communication about what’s happening in the classroom directly. Another part is making sure you and the parents are aware of the community resources that are available to the team. These sorts of resources could include:

  • After school programs
  • Opportunities at your local library/li>
  • Online enrichment sites
  • Content-related parent workshops
  • Sending parents your class notes (or posting publicly)

5.  Wrapping Up the Year

It might feel way too early to think about the end of the year, but allowing your parent community to have a say in what and how you teach can really bring the team together in a special way. Getting parent feedback on the previous year’s work can help them to feel valued, and it makes sure that what you are teaching is as relevant as can be. Of course, very few teachers have complete autonomy to teach what they like in the classroom. We have district and schoolwide curricula to adhere to. And yet, many of us have small spaces within that curriculum where we can adjust to a community’s set of values. Think:  where do you have flexibility? Perhaps you have to teach students the skill of using text evidence to support their thinking and the curriculum wants you to organize a debate. Can the families decide what the debate will be about? What matters to them? What is the community currently dealing with, ad what do they care about? Not only will this guarantee you an audience at the next debate, but it will forge a whole new classroom dynamic. So use those last few precious weeks at end of the year to plan for the upcoming year, with the assistance of your new favorite colleagues.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.