Establishing Partnership Early
1. Team Success!
Remember and communicate that you and the parent are coming from the same place - both parties want the very best for the child. Use this as foundation of your meetings and contact. Parents will be comforted by a consistent reminder of your common goal.
2. Parent letters
Each year, I ask parents to write to me about their student. We have provided this letter on our Resources page. In the letter, we ask for parents to give us insight since they are the expert on their child. You can feel the love behind the words the parents write. I encourage families to write back in Spanish or email me if it is easier, and I do not follow up with them down if they do not write back. It is a great way to connect and start the important work of getting to know your students.
3. Consider the burden of communication on your families
Each family wants and needs something different from their child's teacher. Even writing a letter to us may be asking a lot from a parent juggling many responsibilities. It is our job to try to understand and accommodate those needs. Be alert for cultural responsive practices - do families need translated documents, access to online resources, or help navigating the relationships with school faculty? Ask questions and look for feedback as you get to know your families. A great way to end a conversation with a parent is "What do you need from me? How can I best support you and your child?" You will come to find that by being proactive and seeking out a system that works for both, you and the parent will have a more harmonious relationship.
4. Consider the burden of communication on yourself
Set clear and reasonable communication expectations for your families. We love the text messaging app Remind101 for this exact purpose. It texts parents while keeping everyone's phone number anonymous. You can send a picture update, group message, or individual communication through the app. Setting "office hours" helps to let parents know when they can expect a response. Whatever system you put in place, try to make sure it is one you can easily maintain. I have run into the problem before of setting up frequent and time-consuming systems that eventually fell by the wayside. This can break trust with parents. Be creative in figuring out ways to meet the needs of your parents while also setting boundaries that work for you.
5. Lean into a relationship with a concerned parent
There is a term casually called "the ostrich effect" where people tend to avoid potential bad news. Most often, people neglect information about possible harm to their finances or health. I think it could also be true when we as teachers hear rumblings of a dissatisfied parent. We may try to avoid the difficult conversations that challenge our teaching, especially in the hectic first few weeks of school. I have learned that it is best to lean into these conversations early. Invite the parent in, schedule a time to talk on the phone, or simply send home a personal note within the first few days. If you wait, the first encounter you may have with that parent may be defending a decision or working to deescalate a problem. By making an effort early and with the intention of building a positive partnership, the parent will be more likely to come to you before a concern becomes a complex problem.