Why Parent/Teacher Relationships are Important (And How to Build Them)
by Seth Sosebee
One of the toughest parts of teaching is working with your students' parents. Success can sometimes rely on understanding the parent/teacher dynamics, and how to avoid or diffuse potentially difficult situations.
Why are parent/teacher relationships important?
I've just entered my sixth school year as a high school social studies teacher. As I reflect on my classroom experience, I think about the many interactions I've had with my students' parents over the years. I now know the benefits of parent/teacher relationships and why they're crucial to a teaching career.
To be honest, at the start of my career, I avoided communicating with parents. My reasoning was that I had the teaching degree, not them. They should step back and hand me the reins to their kids' scholarly development. I believed things would work best if I handled the teaching, and they focused on parenting.
Here are a few reasons why I was wrong:
- Teachers cannot know students as well as their parents can. Parents have a deep, holistic understanding of their kids. They understand what motivates them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how their children's personal lives may be impacting their academic performance.
- Parental love is the greatest motivator. Teachers wish the best for their students, but parents will move heaven and earth to ensure their children are safe, happy and successful. As the program Head Start says, parents are their children's first and most important teacher.
- Parents are always there. A teacher must divide their attention amongst dozens of students for six or seven hours a day. However, the voice of their parents is often the first and last thing that a child hears each day. Parents can remind their kids about upcoming tests, check their homework, and deal with problems before they manifest themselves in the classroom.
Ways for teachers to communicate with parents
A generation ago, communications were limited to email and parent/teacher conferences. Today, there are scores of convenient and easy-to-use options for building positive relationships with parents.
Here are several great relationship-building options:
- Email. Tried and true, email is still a great way to communicate with parents because it's more than likely how they'll expect to hear from you. Being able to CC or BCC other teachers or administrators onto communication with parents is beneficial when multiple parties need to be kept in the loop about an issue.
Another useful feature of email is that every exchange is automatically cataloged for future reference.
- Apps. Remind, Edmodo, Google Classroom and the Talkingpoints app are a few of the many easy-to-use apps for contacting parents and students. These tools allow teachers to manage multiple classes and send individual or group communications, such as reminders about tests, quizzes and due dates. New features are continually being added to these apps, like the ability to post quizzes, polls or photo files.
The Talkingpoints app can even translate text into twenty different languages, which is a wonderful feature for parents to whom English is not their first language.
- Phone call. Some situations require more personal and delicate means of communication. A voice-to-voice conversation delivers nuance and emphasis in ways that typed messages cannot.
Phone calls can also be more efficient. There will be times that an email exchange between a teacher and a parent evolves into a back-and-forth message chain that spans several days. A 15-minute phone call can save the teacher and parent the time and hassle.
Two best practices for dealing with parents
1. Introduce yourself early
Something as simple as a "hello" email to parents can go a long way. Giving parents a bit of information about yourself allows you to influence their perception of you and their expectations positively. It also communicates openness, which helps to build trust. It's never beneficial for a teacher's first interaction with a parent to be in the form of bad news.
2. Be completely honest and transparent
Here are a few situations in which total honesty with parents is both ethical and practical:
- When delivering bad news. When teachers sugarcoat bad news to parents, they only partially reveal the issues that need to be addressed. When a parent's understanding of a problem is incomplete, they're unable to address the totality of the problem.
- When you've screwed something up. You will make mistakes, so remember, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. Tell your student's parents the reality of a situation rather than what you believe they want to hear. For instance, if you're aware that you won't be able to enter grades for an important test in a timely manner, being upfront with this information will prevent a dozen emails from frustrated parents. They'll usually appreciate your candor.
- When setting their expectations about you. Let parents know exactly what kind of teacher you are to prevent disappointments. For example, I have a bad habit of overlooking emails. On parent/teacher night at my school, I tell each parent that if I haven't responded to their email within a day, it is perfectly fine for them to send a follow-up email.
Are you ready for a job in teaching — and for building positive relationships with students and their parents? The first thing you need to do is create a strong resume and cover letter that highlight your skills and accomplishments. Use our free Resume Builder and Cover Letter Templates to show that you're the ideal candidate for the job.