by Jonathon Denholm November 19, 2021 8 min read
Teacher and parents relations can be difficult. Their child is the apple of their eye and sometimes parents believe that their child can do no wrong. Then they get a phone call from a teacher who might be sharing some bad news with them. The stress levels are starting to rise already.
Some parents may become defensive or misunderstand what a teacher is saying, especially during a phone call. It can be difficult to hear at the best of times, particularly for working parents who have stressful jobs. One badly timed phone call and you may have ruined their day as well as yours.
But working on building positive relationships with parents can lead to supportive learning environments in and out of school. Teachers can receive the full backing to teach how they see fit and parents know that they can trust their child’s educators to support them as much as they need.
Receiving a message that says your son or daughter has been causing trouble from someone you don’t know can be jarring and lead to defensiveness. But this can be avoided by making “positive contact” with a parent as soon as possible. When was the last time you called a parent just to say “well done” to a child?
Instead of the school only reporting behavioural problems, we open up a dialogue to tell parents about achievements and successes. Even something simple like a good score in a spelling test could help a parent see that teachers are not out to get their kids but to help them improve.
If you do not have a relationship with a parent when you have to report poor behaviour, try using the “compliment sandwich”. Start with a positive, then the challenging point, before ending with a positive. This will still help you build a relationship and avoid defensiveness.
Always begin with recent success. This creates a calm and comforting environment for the parents to enter and does not make your phone call or meeting a battleground.
After this, explain the challenging behaviour. Remain positive throughout and explain why it was unacceptable and how it was handled. Positive action will help the parents see that you are working to help their child improve and succeed, instead of just shouting at them.
Wrap up with another positive point, preferably a larger one than the first. The most recent piece of information you hear is often the piece of information you remember best. We’re not trying to make the parents forget about the challenging behaviour (far from it!), but we want their time talking with the school to be positive.
Taking time to build up compliment sandwiches will make parents feel they are doing something right. Parents have a tough job, which is often thankless. If you have to implement an improvement plan, include something that will brighten their day as well.
Parents work. It’s becoming rarer and rarer for one parent to be able to stay at home during the day, so finding a good time to call can be difficult. This is where building a relationship with parents becomes useful.
If you know a parent, you can guess when would be a good time to call. If they work a 9-5, calling between those times might be difficult. If they work night shifts, calling in the morning is a bad idea. Making a call as stress-free as possible is key to maintaining the support of the parents.
Parents are people who have lives that are not just concerned with parenting. Find the time to call and help them relax. You’ll have a better chance of having a meaningful conversation that they can remember if you take the time to meet them on their terms.
Also, remember that your job does not need to eat into your personal life. Teachers have serious work-life balance problems, thanks to marking and lesson planning. Although it’d be ideal if we could call after 5, don’t let all your time at home become office hours. Find a time that works for everyone and use email until you are sure.
There is nothing more frustrating than taking time out of your busy day for a meeting and finding out that the other parties didn’t prepare properly or can’t offer good answers to questions. Before inviting a parent into school or picking up the phone, make sure you know the challenging behaviour and how you plan to deal with it.
Remember, you are human as well. You don’t need to have a picture-perfect version of the events in your mind, so writing up notes can be an excellent idea. You can even give a copy of these to parents so that they can refer to them later.
Instead of a meeting or a phone call, you could open the dialogue with an email. Struggling to include all the details? We like to break it up into these three easy to understand parts:
• What was the challenging behavio
• What are the school going to do?
• What are the parents going to do?
Avoid simply telling them what they did wrong. Without going into teacher mode, we need to tell them why that behaviour was unacceptable and how that affects your classroom. Our main goal is to explain that the behaviour was unacceptable and we need to help the child avoid it.
With any challenging behaviour, explain what caused the problem and why that was unacceptable in your classroom. For example, take low-level disruption like talking when not allowed or shouting out. Instead of just stating the facts, we need to add that this distracts the entire class and holds up everyone’s learning time.
We’re not patronising. We’re not wasting time. We’re clear and to the point.
All schools should have their behaviour policies that clearly explain how the teachers should react to certain behaviours. All teachers should also have their own “toolbox” of behaviour management techniques to use in class to maintain control and calmness.
However, this doesn’t mean that parents know about them. Behaviour policies are usually large documents that aren’t exactly light reads. We shouldn’t expect parents to find the time to study and gather an encyclopaedic knowledge of every rule and punishment at a school.
Take your time to show and explain to parents how the poor behaviour was corrected and the plans you have to support the child in avoiding it in the future. Quoting from the behaviour policy can be a good idea, but remember to break it down to remove teacher jargon.
Who knows the children better than anyone else? It’s almost always the parents. And rightly or wrongly, this means that parents sometimes don’t like to be told how to raise their children. If you stray into commanding a parent to do something, they will probably become defensive.
You can suggest ideas at home, but this section is more concerned with finding out how the parents can support your classroom and how you can support them. Just like your classroom is a safe space for the ideas of children, make it a safe space for parents too.
If you are planning a meeting or phone call with parents, bring your ideas and give them time to include their own. Instead of reinventing the wheel and constantly creating new behaviour strategies, ask the parents these questions: What do you do? How do you stop this behaviour? What can I introduce in my class?
If you are tech-savvy, you might want to use an online mind map application to collect ideas. You can save a document to Google Drive and ask parents to log in and add ideas to it as you go. This takes the stress off the parents to pose solutions straight away and still allows them to contribute.
When you and the parents have agreed on the best course of action, drawing up a “social contract” can be an excellent way to involve parents and the child in the improvement plan.
Your contract should clearly explain your expectations and the parents’ expectations for how the child should behave and show that everyone is working towards a common goal. Ideally, suggestions that the parents have given should be marked in the contract for the child to see.
Now that everyone has agreed to a plan, you are all held accountable to uphold it. The child has to behave. You have to support changes in the classroom. The parents have to support changes at home. Helping parents feel involved can be a challenge, but this tactic makes their role very clear and.
When you understand what the parents want to do, you can implement that in your classroom to support their home. But contact doesn’t end there. All of your hard work can fall apart if you don’t keep communicating. Great communication leads to the best results!
A teacher’s work is never done, so finding extra time to call home can be a real pain. Avoid time-consuming ideas as they will quickly become unmanageable and you will find yourself in the same (or worse!) state as if you hadn’t made contact at all.
But don’t worry, here are a few simple tricks that can keep the parents in the loop. Remember that a stress-free and open 5-minute phone conversation is better than an hour-long meeting that leaves you all at loggerheads.
No one expects you to phone the parents of every child you teach every day. That’s ridiculous and would probably be annoying for the parents. Finding time to congratulate every child at least once every month would be enough for most parents.
Instead of a phone call, it may be easier to send out emails. You don’t need to worry about catching a parent at a bad time and you can take your time to work out exactly what you want to say. Even if you only use 3 or 4 templates to base the messages off, this can take a lot of stress out of the process.
Even simpler would be notes left in exercise books or planners that your children take home. Just like we leave feedback for students, write a question or positive feedback for the parents. This doesn’t need to be often - I did this once every 2 weeks and it led to very positive teacher-parent relations.
This is the biggest issue for parents. Sometimes, despite all their efforts and trying to work with the school, they feel like their voices go unheard because they don’t hear if the improvement plans are working. This can lead to anxiety or feeling that all the effort they put in has gone to waste.
Using phone calls, emails, and feedback in books and planners, you can keep the parents in the loop. They want to know that their children are improving. They want to know if they are succeeding. If you have made a safe environment for parents to voice worries and offer ideas, make sure they get that feedback.
Formal reports serve this purpose, but they can be infrequent. Consistent feedback and measurable results (such as test scores or achievement points) can help parents feel more relaxed and more prepared to carry on supporting you. The better they feel, the more likely they can implement your plans.
Creating improvement plans with parents can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. They want what’s best for their children and can sometimes be distrustful of teachers, especially if they only hear criticism.
Opening a channel of communication with parents can make the relationship friendlier and more open, which will lead to better results. Helping them understand that you are all working as a team - teacher, parents, and child - instead of against each other will improve your chances of success.
Calm, clear messages which offer plenty of space for suggestions will help the parents feel involved in the process and draw on their valuable experience of actually raising the child in question! If you can draw on their ideas, you know that you will have your plan working in the classroom and at home.