We dedicated considerable effort at the beginning of the year to ensure families had the information needed to help their children succeed academically. Maybe we held open houses and “meet the teacher” events to introduce ourselves, created good first impressions, and began building relationships with families. We shared information on how families can communicate with us and how we plan to communicate with them.
We might think of these and other actions and activities as Phase 1 of forming relationships with families. These important first steps help set the stage for a successful year. However, these connections also occur during the flurried activities signaling the new school year. Consequently, much that we shared and their benefits may soon be forgotten.
Our challenge, now that school has started and we’re forming new routines, is to nurture, strengthen, and sustain family relationships we initiated. Relationships thrive on frequent communication and connections. People lean toward greater trust in those with whom they have more contact.
We might think of our communication efforts and activities as entering Phase 2. There are many ways to deliver on our promises to parents when school began. Here are nine relationship forming and sustaining actions deserving our time and attention as we establish a rhythm and pace for the year.
Continue to be confident and congenial.
Parents become attuned to whether teachers are confident in their role. Our poise and enthusiasm send reassuring signals to anxious parents and leave them feeling more confident in us as their child’s teacher. Forming and sustaining strong positive relationships with parents is an easier task when we approach the situation with self-assurance and a positive attitude.
Reinforce expectations shared at the beginning of the year.
We shared with parents when we are available. We communicated options regarding the best ways to contact us. We urged them to let us know when significant issues and events occur that may disrupt or distract their children. However, this information was likely received with a wealth of other information and expectations. Now is a good time to repeat and reinforce the expectations that parents can have of us and what we need from them. Of course, not all parents will follow through in a manner we prefer, but most parents are conscientious and will respond appropriately.
Collect, learn, and use family names.
When we know and use names, rapport and relationship building become easier. We need to pay special attention to family names not the same as our students’. Numerous reasons account for last name differences and noticing them can avoid awkward and embarrassing situations. It isn’t necessary to memorize every parent’s name but collecting names and reviewing them makes an important difference when interacting with parents at conferences or meetings. Also, for parents with whom we have frequent interactions, knowing their names is important.
Give them something to talk about.
Families often feel at loss on how to draw out of their children what they experienced and learned during the school day. Assisting families with brief group texts, email, and other electronic messages with suggestions about how they might talk with their children regarding what they studied, discussed, and accomplished during the day helps families. As a bonus, our messages keep parents informed about what we teach and even stimulate conversations beyond the curriculum.
Look for opportunities to share good news.
Rarely will parents object when we take time to share good news about their children. A quick text or email will be appreciated. For a more significant impact, consider calling and sharing the news live. Furthermore, should the time come when we must share less positive news about their children, the more likely parents will see our efforts as balanced and objective.
Don’t assume. Inquire.
If we notice or hear something that needs attention, we must be careful not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Families can be complex, often facing significant challenges. Rather than starting with a conclusion, we need to tactfully inquire and allow families to inform us as they see fit.
No one appreciates unpleasant surprises, especially if earlier available information could have been shared. When we see student behavior changes, achievement drops, or other issues emerge, we must communicate with parents early, especially before what we see becomes a set pattern. We may find parents already aware of the situation and willing to share information, so we can respond effectively. Or they may appreciate our sharing our observations and inviting them to partner in finding solutions. Even if parents don’t respond in a way we prefer, we’ll have gained information to boost our efforts and relationship with the student.
Help families to prepare for engagement with us.
When contacting parents to schedule a meeting or conference, we must be clear and specific about its purpose or topic. Knowing what’s planned helps lower anxiety and allows parents to prepare. When appropriate, we might share what they specifically can prepare and bring with them.
Be an advocate.
When we see ourselves as advocates for our students, our attitude and commitment naturally reflect in our language and actions. Parents rarely resist or question our advice and behavior when they clearly see we’re supporters, defenders, and protectors of their children and their success.
Relationships matter. We know the power of positive, influential relationships with our students. The relationships we form with families stand equally important, especially during rough spots when students need all the support we can muster.