By Ty Collins
Building a strong relationship between teachers and parents is a difficult, but essential component of educational success.
For younger students in particular, the bond between parents and school faculty holds sway over how well they are able to get along with others at home and in the classroom. Furthermore, the relationship between parent and teacher is even more important to a child’s success in school than their relationships with their peers.
Even as children age, the parent-teacher link is still important in influencing academic achievement and fostering emotional well-being (along with a positive attitude about school and learning in general). The closer parents are with their child’s teachers, the better that child’s chances of success become.
Creating this sort of parent-teacher connection, however, is often an uphill battle. This is due in large part to a lack of communication between the two parties. Establishing relationships under the best conditions is difficult enough, but in the case of parent-teacher communication, one bad interaction can send the entire endeavor sideways.
As a teacher, you might deem a family “difficult” to work with, and subsequently withdraw from any honest efforts at an open dialogue. Conversely, parents may easily get the false impression that a teacher is unwilling to interact with them, causing them to dismiss parent-teacher communication as a lost cause.
It’s important for parents and teachers alike to understand how to establish proper channels of communication early and maintain them so that students have a better chance of succeeding in the classroom. Here are some ways you can start that process.
Communication that lacks trust will always suffer. Without trust, parents won’t know that you have their child’s best academic interests at heart, and they’ll be less willing to follow your lead when it comes to suggestions that will help improve their child’s success in school. You, in turn, may not be willing to take parents at their word when they say they will take the necessary steps to aid their child’s progress if you don’t trust what they say.
Trust is the bedrock of the parent-teacher relationship, so you’ll need to work hard on building it up through the way you communicate. This is something that business leaders have practiced for ages, but the psychology behind their advice works just as well when you’re a teacher trying to bridge the gap between yourself and a parent. The following tips will all help foster trust bit by bit, which will improve parent-teacher communication.
Communication is much easier to maintain when you start off on the right foot. You can set the appropriate tone for future conversations by making your intentions clear from the beginning. This will also help put you and parents on the same page so you can work together toward the shared goal of staying in touch and sharing pertinent info.
At the outset, it’s probably also a good idea for you to settle on the modes of communication that will work best for both parties. While phone calls and emails might be sufficient for some, technology allows for many more options, and you might find that some form of social media, in-app messaging, or other mode of contact works better.
Also, while initiating first contact can technically fall to either party, families appreciate it when teachers go the extra mile to make a connection. You can make a trust-enhancing impression with an introductory phone call or letter to parents, explaining your goals and establishing expectations for subsequent conversations.
Good communication has to be consistent. It’s another concept that businesspeople have known for years, and it’s just as applicable to the dynamic between parents and teachers.
If you reach out infrequently or only when you need something, you’re limiting trust between yourself and the families you work with because it gives the impression that you don’t care. Consistent communication, on the other hand, sends the signal that you’re on top of things, helping you build trust and further the parent-teacher relationship.
Establish regularity in your communications with parents, and you’ll find you’re better able to keep parents up to date on their child’s progress. You can inform them of what their child must do in order to succeed, and they can adjust course to make any necessary changes.
Establishing a consistent routine of communication can also put families at ease, getting them comfortable enough to ask questions and seek clarification on points that they don’t understand. Should your communications occur frequently enough, they’ll also help you address emerging problems before they can spiral out of control — a vital component in staying proactive about student success.
Sitting on problems will only make them grow. For the sake of honest, productive communications with parents, you need to keep them up to date on the difficulties their child is having in class whenever possible. Share what you know as soon as you know it.
If a student is having trouble focusing, falling behind on classwork, or having any other issue, all you have to do is reach out to their parents so that you can all work together to devise a solution. This should keep those problems from snowballing and build trust in the parent-teacher relationship.
It’s important for you to understand that the channel between parents and teachers runs both ways. Don’t enter conversations just to talk at the families you work with. Your intention should be to both educate and learn in equal measure. This means that both parties, in addition to speaking their peace, should be actively asking questions and listening to the other side.
You can start by avoiding some of the pitfalls that might hinder your ability to listen with care, such as arrogance, impatience, or failing to let the other side be heard. Couple this with better questions — the type that go beyond simple “yes” or “no” answers and involve follow-up queries that will truly improve your understanding of a situation. You might be surprised by how much a simple phrase like “tell me more” can help enhance a conversation!
Creating authentic dialogue also means that you should be looking for opportunities to establish commonalities between you and the parents you work with. When you can see the attributes you both share, it becomes easier to put yourself on equal footing with parents (and vice versa), so the conversation is more likely to remain a two-way street.
Without honesty, every word you exchange falls flat. If you expect the truth from parents and give it in return, you’ll be on the right track. Be forthright and, whether you’re delivering good news, bad news, praise, or critique, make sure you hold yourself accountable for your message.
This builds trust, as it shows you’re willing to engage — even on difficult topics. It’s still important to be careful when choosing your words, and if you do say something harmful, holding yourself accountable means that you have to deliver a sincere apology and make amends for the consequences of your words.
Honesty is one key component of trust-building communication, but you’ll have to temper it with empathy and understanding. You need to show empathy with students, parents, and their situations to demonstrate that you care about helping them reach a desirable academic outcome. Taking a genuine interest in how they feel is a must.
Another key component in displaying empathy is learning to adapt to the various communication styles that you will encounter. Some parents will be extroverted communicators, for instance, who are energized by the mere suggestion of having a conversation. Be prepared to let them speak at length and process their thoughts out loud.
Introverted communicators, on the other hand, might not do so well if you’re having a conversation in a group setting. You’ll have to acknowledge this, and look for an opportunity to communicate one-on-one with such parents so that they can feel free to open up and express their true thoughts without the hindrance of a crowd.
You’ll also have to learn how to evaluate your own communication style and manage your emotions in every interaction. This will allow you to adapt how you speak to better connect with parents and prevent potentially heated conversations from going off the rails.
As a follow-up to empathy and understanding, positivity and respect are equally important components of successful parent-teacher interaction. How you speak to parents will have a direct impact on how they interact with you, so keep things friendly — even when what you have to say is critical.
You’ll find that maintaining a positive demeanor will help establish trust, because parents will be able to see that you aren’t out to tear them down or demean them. Consequently, they will be more likely to remain forthcoming in future interactions and invest more honest effort into maintaining a respectful parent-teacher bond.
Nobody enjoys having their time wasted. For every parent-teacher interaction, make sure you know what you’re trying to convey and why it’s important for parents to know that information in advance. This will help conversations get to the point and flow more smoothly, while keeping interactions between both parties pleasant.
Always lead with the main point you’re trying to convey and be direct in both verbal and written communication. Remember that less is often more, so don’t fall into the trap of over explaining every concept or getting yourself off-track with tangents.
Poor communication is guaranteed when you choose to make assumptions. In addition to potentially landing yourself in an embarrassing situation, you run the risk of completely missing important details that might factor into how you should be dealing with a student and communicating with their family.
Instead of assuming you know everything you know about students or parents, get in the habit of slowing down, asking questions, and listening to their responses. You stand to gain valuable insight on the backgrounds and home lives of students and their families, which will further your connection, build trust, and help you communicate more efficiently.
You already know that non-verbal communication is a powerful tool within the classroom and a critical factor in getting students to behave. As it turns out, body language, facial cues, and hand gestures are important in parent-teacher interactions as well.
To foster better communication, you’ll want to start by avoiding negative cues such as folding your arms, tightening your face, or avoiding eye contact. Then, you’ll want to set your conversations up for success with positive and open body language. During in-person contact, remove physical barriers to conversation, like furniture, and adopt positive cues: upright posture, relaxed facial expression, regular eye contact, etc.
When communicating or participating in school-related functions, parents are often sacrificing valuable time from their busy days. Not every parent has that type of flexibility, and you can build trust by acknowledging this fact and thanking parents for their time.
This is just one example of seeking out opportunities to build up the other party and the effort they are putting into making communication work. Look for other opportunities to continue highlighting the effort that parents are putting in, as doing so will help illustrate that you have their (and their child’s) best interests in mind.
Whether it’s in-person or remote, putting names to faces is vital to establishing healthy parent-teacher interactions. From a teacher’s perspective it can be hard to prioritize getting some face time, though, as scheduling meetings takes considerable effort (especially when dealing with large numbers of students and parents).
It’s not impossible, however, and taking advantage of technological solutions like Calendly can help. Such programs make it easy to propose a range of available meeting times and get multiple parties on the schedule without the need for endless back-and-forth scheduling interactions.
With the hassle of scheduling handled, you can focus on taking advantage of the positive aspects of face-to-face communication, such as strengthening your connection with students and parents, and helping students deal with problems quickly and effectively. Whenever possible, you’ll want to communicate with parents face to face so you can get the most out of every interaction!
Ty is the head of digital acquisition and content at Calendly.
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