Building Relationships (The Teacher-Parent Edition)

Today we're talking about something that's near and dear to my heart as both a teacher AND a parent...



Establishing and maintaining relationships with parents!!!

When I first started teaching about 13 years ago, I was a very timid and insecure 23-year-old.  I was unsure of  myself as a teacher and I was nervous as all get out about talking to parents.  I remember being asked (by several different parents) on meet the teacher night my first year, "how old are you?!?!" I remember thinking how they must have thought I looked too young to be teaching their babies.  Oh, how I wish I still had that problem. 
#grayhairdon'tcare #crowsfeet #wrinklesfordays

I remember being so scared to tell parents about their child's behavior...would they accuse me of lying?  Or say I didn't know how to handle my kids because it was my first year in the classroom?  
I walked on eggshells when it came to important conversations.  I wanted to seem competent.  I wanted parents to love me.  I remember being terrified to talk about the "hard stuff"...low test scores, struggling learners, etc.  I wanted to bypass those conversations and talk about all the cool things we were going on in the classroom.  Being a professional is tough! 
 #thestruggleisreal

That first year in the classroom taught me SO much about myself as a teacher...both professionally and personally.  I learned to put on my "big girl panties" and deal with it all.  For me, it was all trial and error.  I made a lot of mistakes and there are situations I wish I could take back and do-over.  But without those experiences, I wouldn't have learned and grown...both personally and professionally :) 

Since that first year, parent/teacher relationships have always been important to me...even the hard conversations.  I'm even more sensitive to these relationships since becoming a parent myself.  
My goal as a teacher has always been to have strong relationships with my parents.  I know some of the girls I've taught with think I'm nuts for having hour long conferences with my parents.  I just can't stop talking. I love building those relationships!!!  

To this day I'm still great friends with SO many of my former parents.  I even had a few of my parents drive from Dallas to Houston when I got married 11 years ago!  Every year I get Christmas cards from many of my former families and I love keeping up with them all on Facebook, too.  Really, they've all become part of my family.  Part of who I am as a teacher.  And I love them to pieces.

I'm definitely no expert when it comes to these relationships, but I think it's an important conversation to have and I wanted to share a few little tips I think  (in my own experience) are really important for establishing and maintaining them.



1.   Making deposits before taking withdrawals
Oh goodness is this important!  As a parent, I don't want the first thing out of my teacher's mouth to be something negative about my kids.  Trust me...I know they can be a handful, but ohmiword...hearing the bad before the good would sure make me wonder if they see anything good about my child at all.   Every parent's wish is for a teacher to love their child and see the good in them {or maybe that's just my wish??!!}.  I always try to keep that in mind.  Every student is someone's child. 

Every year we have our sweet little stinkers.  We really want to nip their not-so-desireable behavior in the bud before it gets out of control and our first line of defense is to pull clips/call parents/send home notes, etc.  I'm not saying any of that is wrong, but if that's the first conversation our parents have with us, we're probably less likely to bond.  That could make for some really awkward and tense conferences in the future and it could put our parents on the defensive if other situations arise throughout the year.  Until you're able to have positive communication with your parents, try and find the best in every student and focus on that.  Make a deposit before taking a withdrawal.

Here are some tips:



-Make a positive phone call home to each of your parents/guardians the first few weeks of school. This establishes a good connection with your parents and starts the year off on the right foot.  Don't email.  CALL.  Call a few different parents each day so that you aren't trying to fit it all into one afternoon.  If you're worried about getting "stuck" on the phone in a long conversation, preface the conversation with, "I know you're busy and I don't want to keep you, but I just had to call you and tell you how much I love having Susie in my class!  She is always so happy and I love the way she takes the initiative to help without being asked.  This is going to be a great year!  I just wanted to let you know!!"  



-In addition to a phone call, send home a handwritten "thank you" card to each of your parents the first few weeks of school.  I've done this for years and always have parents tell me how much they loved the gesture.  My thank you cards read something like this....
"Dear Mr. & Mrs. Carroll, 
Thank you so much for trusting me with Landon.  He is such a sweet boy with so much potential and I can tell this is going to be a great year.  I am so excited to watch him grow this year.  He is so kind to others and has such neat handwriting.  He loves to participate in our group discussions, too!  Thank you so much for giving him such a great foundation and preparing him for our year together.  I'm looking forward to partnering with you this year and if you ever have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, please contact me at (123)555-5555.  This is going to be a wonderful year!
Sincerely, me"
I always try to include something specific about their child in the note (handwriting, participation, etc.).

- Keep a "behavior sheet" for every student in your class.  At the beginning of the year, organize these into their portfolios.  Carry around a clipboard with blank labels.  When you notice something great about your kids, jot it down on a label and stick it on their "behavior sheet".  These behaviors could be ANYTHING...works well with others, helps without being asked, very attentive, always positive, etc.  Notice the good and jot it down.  When you want to make a positive phone call home or send home a quick little "happy note", you'll have specific examples of things to include in your conversation :)





2. Be Accessible
An "open door policy" can mean a lot of different things depending on where you teach.  As teachers we definitely want to establish boundaries.  It can be distracting for our kids when there are too many visitors and it can definitely throw off a routine and cause interruptions in our instructional time.  Make sure those boundaries are set, but also make sure that parents know they are welcome.  If your school doesn't allow parents in the classroom, this might manifest itself by way of phone calls and conferences.  I personally give parents my cell phone and tell them "if you can trust me with your child for 10 months, I can trust you with my phone number.  I may not get back to you right away if I'm spending time with my family, but if it's an emergency I will contact you as soon as possible."  This sets boundaries in a nice way, but also lets them know I'm there for them if they need me.  Of course, this doesn't work for everyone, but it's something I'm comfortable with and it works for me. And I always want my parents to know that they can contact me about anything...if they're unsure about something, have a question, are upset, worried, etc.  Whatever it is, I want them to know they can contact me about it.  I personally prefer phone calls because tone can't be read through an email and so many things can get misconstrued and taken out of context.  HOWEVER, I also know that email is important for documentation purposes.  




3.  Be Upfront
Don't be scared to talk about the hard stuff.  You're not doing anyone any favors by tiptoeing around the hard to have conversations.  As always be professional and kind, but by all means, be upfront.  Parents need to know if you have concerns and you need to tell them exactly what your concerns could mean for the future.  They most certainly don't want to be blindsided by anything.  If your sweetie is bullying his friends, let your parents know what you see so they aren't in shock when he is sent to the principal for something really serious.  If your sweet baby is struggling in various academic areas and isn't on track to be promoted to the next grade level, let your parents know before the last day of school.  Nobody likes to be surprised!!  




4.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!!!
I don't think I can stress this one enough!  I've always had great relationships with my parents, but there have been a couple of times when parents have been upset with me (happens to us all!) due to a misunderstanding or miscommunication.  Parents are the best advocates for their kids and I always encourage them to do just that...advocate for your babies!!!  Heck...I'll advocate for mine because I know no one else will.  All that to be said, the better the communication, the less you'll have to worry about anyone misunderstanding.  Here are some things I've found that really help keep parents in the loop.

- Parent/Teacher Conferences - I'm not talking about the conferences you're required to have 3-4 times a year.  I'm talking about the conferences that are needed to discuss pressing issues....behavior, academic concerns, bullying, etc.  Be proactive and set-up conferences when you feel there's a need. 



- Weekly Newsletters - Let's be real.  Our students aren't always forthcoming about what's going on in their classrooms.  I know when I pick up my boys at the end of the day the first question I ask is always, "how was your day?!?!" or "what did you do today??!!"  The answers are always "fine" and "nothing", LOL!!!  But it's SO true!!!  Being a parent myself, I always want to know what my kids are doing when they're not with me.  What are they learning?  What can I do at home to help them be more successful in the classroom?  Are there any special events/birthdays/activities coming up?  A weekly newsletter keeps them in the loop and aware of what's going on.  I email my newsletter to my parents and include a section for "What We Learned This Week", "What We're Learning Next Week", "Upcoming Events/Birthdays/Activities", "Important Reminders", and "Kids Say the Darndest Things".  


-Simply Circle - This is an EXCELLENT platform for communicating with parents!!!!  If you're not familiar with Simply Circle, you must check it out!!!!  




5.  Love Their Kids
If you do nothing else, LOVE their kids.  Even the babies that are hard to love.  Love them.  Be kind to them.  SMILE at them.  Praise them.  Compliment them.  Hug them.  Make them laugh.  Listen to them.  Love them, love them, and then LOVE THEM SOME MORE.  When you love them, they love you and in turn, so do their parents.  I have LOVED my boys' teachers to pieces because I know they've loved my boys.  I hear what my boys say about them.  I hear how my boys feel about the way they're treated.  They have LOVED their teachers and because of that, I have loved them, too.  
If you can and if you feel comfortable, here's a tip...

-Spend time getting to know your kids OUTSIDE of the classroom.  Attend dance recitals, baseball games, church events, etc.  You can't attend every single event for every single child, but try to attend at least one.  Send home a little survey or questionnaire at the beginning of the year asking your parents for a schedule of their child's extracurricular activities/events.   Just an extra little something to show you're invested in WHO they are...not just who they are in the classroom.  And ohmiword, the look on your kid's faces when they see you at THEIR event?!?!  Priceless!!!!


And just remember that sometimes, no matter how much you communicate...how much you praise...how much you LOVE their child...some parents might not see eye to eye with you and/or your teaching philosophy.  Sometimes they want what you can't give.  Sometimes they don't want what you're giving.  But as long as you have their child's best interest at heart....and as long as you are doing everything you can to give their child every opportunity possible...that has to be enough :)  
Just remember to be positive and professional in every situation and take every experience as a learning opportunity.

What are some things you do to establish and maintain parent/teacher relationships?!  I'd love to hear more!!!

32 comments:

  1. This was wonderful. Well said. I'm pretty sure that your students and parents love you right back.

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    1. you are sweet, Sandy! I sure hope they do!!!

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I agree with everything you mentioned! :)

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    1. So happy to hear I'm not alone! Blessings!

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  3. Thank you for a wonderful post. We need that reminder as we begun our new year. I have always called parents for good reasons to help establish those relationships, and to reassure them that I truly love their child. My first principal was a wonderful mentor. He taught me to call the parents for good reasons in front of the child. There is nothing better than to see that ear-to-ear grin on your student's face as you are communicating their strengths or acts of kindness to their parents. Before I hang up I let the student speak to their parents. Simply priceless!

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    1. LOVE the idea of calling IN FRONT of the child!!! Talk about building a great rapport with your kids AND parents!!! GREAT idea!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

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  4. This is a great post! I'm not a parent so it's sometimes hard for me to think about things from that perspective. Thanks for sharing all your great ideas!

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    1. I don't think being a parent makes someone a better teacher, but it definitely makes you look at things from a whole different perspective. Gah...wish I could get a do-over with the kids from my first few years in the classroom, LOL!!!

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  5. Thank you for an inspiring post.

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    1. GIrl, you are so cute :) Thank you!!!!

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  7. Follow Me To First Grade -
    I loved this post!! I agree with you 100%. I absolutely love what I do and this makes it easier to have good relationships with my parents and my students. I don't mind the parents having my cel #. I call the parents to brag about them, when there is a good grade or I caught them helping someone, etc. If we run into another teacher, or principal in the hallway I make a big deal of whatever good happened in the classroom.

    I try to have a conference in person with each parent within the first four weeks of the school year. I want them to know my expectations. I tell them we have a "partnership" and we need to work together to help their kids be successful! My conferences last about an hour, sometimes longer than that. I have had teachers told me how crazy I am for doing this but I'm establishing relationships at the beginning of the school year so it is important to listen to them. I have had mothers break down because of a situation at home. This helps me understand the student's behavior and find out the best way I can help him.

    I've had parents asked me to move to the next grade level so their kids can stay with me. I have former students and parents visit me on Open House while I'm talking to my present parents. They ask permission to just come and give me a hug! It makes me feel appreciated! It makes me work harder to improve myself to prepare my students better and better every year!

    I appreciate teachers like you because you inspire me to keep on! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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    1. My favorite part of every year is when my former students come back to give me hugs and say hello!!!! Makes me feel like I did something right ;) And let me tell you what...my favorite conversations with parents are the ones where I hear all the stuff that makes me understand why my student's behavior is the way it is. Gives me so much perspective and really softens my heart. Love this so much!!! Thank you for sharing!

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  8. Thanks for sharing! These are wonderful reminders as I get ready to meet my new students and parents this afternoon!

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  9. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing! As a mother of three, I can not agree with you more how important this relationship is! I also love what you include in your newsletter. Is there any way I can see an example of your weekly newsletter? I can only imagine how wonderful it is and I am really wanting to change mine. Thank you for all your wonderful ideas!

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    1. I'm happy to share that, Joy!!! I'm going to post the details and a template this week! Blessings to you!

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  10. Thank you so much for this post! Last school year was my first year teaching, and I definitely experienced all of those feelings you mentioned from when you were a first year teacher. I am so motivated to form stronger connections with parents this year, and this post was very inspiring to me! Thank you so much for all that you do and share!

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    1. The first year in the classroom is SO much trial and error, isn't it?! I'm glad to hear someone else can relate to what I experienced!!! Here's to a great 2nd year for you!!! I'm sure it will be WONDERFUL!!! Blessings!!!!

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  11. What a wonderful post! I totally agree with everything you said! I started teaching when I was 21 - I was 5 foot 1 and teaching 4th graders. The parents "joked" that I looked just like the kids. But I have learned so much about the vital importance of communication! GREAT post! As a side note, where did you get your pictures for your tips? They are perfect!

    Ashley
    One Step Closer Teaching

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    1. Hey Ashley!!! Sorry for the late response! The pictures are from Dollar Photo Club!! Hope this helps!!!! XOXO

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  12. Cara,
    I just loved this post! You covered it all and I will be send all the new teachers who are stressed about forming positive relationships with parents here to read this post. This is my 26th year of teaching, but I strive to improve my relationships with parents to have a greater impact on their children.
    But I learned something from my husband that was revolutionary in how I encourage empower and welcome the most reluctant parents, I ask them about their experience in school My husband was a you describe a Sweet-n-Low student .He had ADHD before there was a label and dyslexic. When we were dating, he came to my kindergarten room to help decorate and had a flashback of feeling inferior and stupid. He shared his feelings and said that's why I never want to meet my son's teachers, I feel stupid and not valued in a school setting. So I tell my husband's story to parents I think might have struggled in school. His story has made bridges to many parents who went from feeling shame to feeling accepted and important. I follow up by offering help on Friday afternoons with how parents can help with their child's homework and activities to improve their child's progress!
    All that positive change for parents, thanks to my very own Sweet-n_Low, Carlos! Thanks to him I get all the behavior issue students due my experience on the home front. LOL!

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    1. I absolutely LOVE this story, Cheryl!!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  13. This post made me tear up! You so right and too sweet! My own kids fall in love with their teachers every year! (Not my high school kids anymore. lol)
    But my youngest gets obsessed with her teachers and that's all I hear about all year long!
    I teach first grade at a title one school, and I tell my parents that I'll treat their kids as if they
    were my own! It makes them feel so much more comfortable and welcome.
    Thanks for sharing these tips! Great reminder!

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    1. My kids do, too!!! And I think parents love to hear that you'll love their babies like you love your own!!! Hope you have a great year!

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  14. Thank you! As a second year teacher I want to "undo" many of the mistakes I made last year. I could relate to not having the tough conversations and being too nervous to call home. My goal this year is to create those relationships. I will use all of your advice to a T. Priceless!!!!! Thank you! Thank you!

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    1. Wouldn't it be awesome if teaching had an "undo" button?!?! LOL!!! But seriously...I'm grateful for those "undo" moments because they've really taught me a lot!!! You will have a great year and build lots of great relationships...I just know it!!! Blessings to you!!! XO

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  15. Wonderful post, Cara! I plan to implement positive phone calls with follow up Thank You cards. Thanks for all that you share!

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  16. I always try and do a compliment call twice a week which is just a phone call for something positive! Thank you for all the other great ideas because truly parent relationships can be even trickier than the kids!
    Melissa
    Smile for Success

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  17. Cara,

    Thank you for sharing! I admire your passion for teaching and your love for your students. Communication truly is a vital part of building trusting relationships with parents. Do you provide online communication sites in which your students' parents can access items that they receive in hardcopies as well? If so, what program has worked best for you in this experience?

    Blessings,
    Drew

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