The parent-teacher relationship: How to build a connection

The parent-teacher relationship: How to build a connection

A strong parent-teacher relationship is important for a number of reasons. Not only does it benefit the child’s education, it establishes efficient communication between all the people who care for the child and guide their development at school and at home. Just as teachers need...

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A strong parent-teacher relationship is important for a number of reasons. Not only does it benefit the child’s education, it establishes efficient communication between all the people who care for the child and guide their development at school and at home. Just as teachers need to understand home dynamics for every student, parents’ involvement at school matters when it comes to creating a consistently safe and productive environment for the child.

Positive parent-teacher relationships also support children’s ability to interact with others. Research shows that teachers believe a good relationship with parents correlates to improved social skills and externalising behaviours among children.

Constructing a healthy parent-teacher relationship is similar to getting to know students. It’s a gradual process, and has to be carried out with sensitivity. It requires research, trust-building, and tailoring communication according to parents’ preferences. But the effort is worth it. The outcome can mean greater transparency with and from parents, and more informed solutions to facilitate students’ academic and emotional growth.

So, how can you foster an effective parent-teacher relationship? Here are some ideas:

Do some background research

Start by asking colleagues and school staff about their previous experiences with your students’ families. Learn parents’ names, professions, and general background to have a picture of their current involvement in the school. Check if they have other children attending the school and speak to their teachers about their knowledge of the family dynamic and home life. Consider how much time parents already give to the parent-teacher relationship, and how other teachers have found interactions with them.

This research stage doesn’t have to be too in-depth but should provide a clear overview of the parents’ existing participation with teachers, and give an idea of how to approach starting a new relationship with them.

Open the lines of communication

Some parents may prefer a virtual introduction before an in-person one, especially if they have busy schedules. Not to mention, there may be a language barrier with parents at international schools, so reaching out via email initially will allow them to translate in their own time.

In the email, introduce yourself and explain that you’d like to understand how to build a relationship with them. You could then invite parents to speak in person with you, to attend a school event where you can meet, or let them know about your office hours where they can call you or come by. Alternatively, you could share a few quick questions that they can give written responses to. These questions could include:

  • Per week, how often do you expect to hear from me?
  • Do you prefer written, phone or in-person communication with me?
  • Do you do educational activities at home with your child? If yes, what activities?
  • What are your educational priorities for your child?
  • Do you have any concerns about your child?
  • Is there anything you’d like to share about your child to inform their experience with me?

Remember to tell parents when you’re available to speak in greater detail about the questions, and give a timeframe for when you hope to have their responses.

Be curious

As you begin to lay the foundation for your relationship with parents, keep asking questions or prompting conversations that inform you about them and their child. Ask about your student, how they learn, what they’re like at home, and how they talk about school. But also ask about the parents themselves, what their school experience was like, and what their expectations are of you.

Of course, it’s important not to overstep professional boundaries – you don’t want to ask questions that are too personal. So long as you’ve expressed that you’re trying to curate the best relationship with parents, and your questions directly relate to that, parents will likely be receptive. If you feel resistance from parents, do not push forward. Respect what they tell you and use their reactions to calibrate the parent-teacher communication. For example, if a parent seems resistant to questions about themselves, you can make a note to keep the relationship focused on the student only.

Recognise potential challenges

Parents, like students, have different needs and expectations. You can’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach to every parent, nor can you underestimate possible obstacles that you could face when building a relationship. Some parents may be very demanding, others disengaged, and others more nervous to interact with you.

Detect if these challenges are present and try to navigate them from day one to form a strong relationship with parents. Speak with peers to determine how to overcome them, and be conscious of setting boundaries with parents so they know when, how, and where to contact you.

Share student news

Students are the common thread between you and parents. Parents will naturally want updates about their child’s performance, and you can share this information, plus use it as a way to maintain regular communication with parents. In particular, share students’ successes – if they got top marks on a test, have the most creative project, have been contributing well in class or have been helping others. Likewise, let parents know if their child is having any difficulties or if you’re worried about their behaviour.

Whenever you deliver this news, emphasise that you see the success as part of the parents’ work too. Or if the child is having difficulties, that you want to work as a team with the parent to find a resolution. Offer to arrange workshops with parents where you can give extra information about how a collaborative relationship benefits the child, and how together you can fuel future wins.

Ultimately, every parent you interact with will have the same goal as you – to see their child have the best education possible. Your relationship should be based on this, and your communication should repeatedly come back to this goal. This shared objective will reassure parents that you care, and will encourage them to be more forthcoming with how they reciprocate in the relationship.

Further reading

Learn more about how to improve parental engagement in your school. Read these five tips for a successful parents evening.

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