Building relationships with parents is an essential component of the start of your school year. Once these relationships are developed, the next question becomes how to maintain communication throughout the year, and through the ups and downs that students may have.
I am a teacher at a National School of Character in Dundalk, Maryland. One of the reasons that we are a National School of Character is our focus on Restorative Practices. Restorative Practice is a social science that blends education, psychology, social work, criminology, sociology, organizational development and leadership with the goal of decreasing antisocial behavior and creating healthy communities.
One of the key beliefs in a restorative school is our purposeful focus on developing school culture. Throughout the school and in each classroom, we focus on building relationships and problem solving. This is our foundation. Yes, we are a school – a center for learning – but we know that the latest research shows that for students to learn they must feel safe, secure and at ease. While learning is taking place we are always making sure that relationships are developing and problems are being solved. When struggles occur in the areas of relationships and problem-solving, we make social and emotional learning in these areas a priority, because we know that 1.) Stressed kids can’t learn, and 2.) This type of learning is essential.
Now, what does this have to do with building relationships with parents? Well, think about it. What do parents want more than anything? They want educators that are really going the extra mile and making a difference for their kids. This is what we are all doing! We just want to make sure parents are aware of our hard work in this area.
In response to the question, “How do you build relationships with parents?” – The answer isn’t that simple. You have to purposefully build a school culture with the children. Then, in doing so, you have to to include the parents and make clear what you are doing, how and why.
At our school, one way we do this is through parent breakfasts that introduce all of the elements of our school culture to our parents. For example, our students do daily class meetings to build relationships and they also do “Justice Circles” to problem solve. Different parent breakfasts might have students demonstrating each of these so that parents will see what their students are doing in the classroom.
The key is always remembering that what parents want most is educators who are going the extra mile and making a difference for their kids. Keep in mind that each parent wants the emphasis to be on THEIR kid, no matter that there might be 30 other kids in the room. Early in the year, an important focus for teachers is to get to know the strengths, weaknesses, fears, quirks, and more for each child and be ready and able to talk about all of this with parents! They want to feel that you know and love this child too- and as soon as they sense that you do, they will relax and trust you. Daily classroom meetings really help you to get to know the children, as do the Justice Circles for problem solving, small group activities and other things like conferencing for writing, daily guided reading and so on. I know it sounds like a big undertaking to know your students this well, but it happens quickly. A trick that may help is to keep a notebook with notes for each student.
Now that we have the relationship in place, how do we tread carefully when there are issues? One of the other key foundations in our restorative culture is support. Since you have a deep relationship with your student you will understand them when they have made a mistake and this will enable you to approach the parent with empathy- for both the child and the parent. Teachers who have relationships with parents and students don’t call to tell them their child is in trouble, but rather call with concern and invite a parent to participate in problem solving. This becomes a situation of deep caring so that everyone is working together in the student’s interest, and it is ultimately relationship building at its best.
Remember, if you find that you are angry when making a call to a parent, don’t do it – you are not in the right mindset. You have to be calm and composed to have the support occur. We all have moments when we are not feeling it. Take the time that you need to do the right thing for your student and their family.
Parent communication is an essential concept. Even when we do everything right, it can still go wrong. Stay the course. As long as you stay focused on the fact that you genuinely care about your students, my experience has been that parents almost always come around! Have a great year.
Darrielle Sarnovsky is a third grade teacher and Restorative Practices leader at Norwood Elementary School in Dundalk Maryland. Norwood is a 2016 National School of Character.
Attend the 2016 National Conference for Character Education on October 14-15 to network and learn more from the 2016 National Schools of Character.