Friday, November 12, 2010

Managing the Parent Teacher Relationship

There is one thing every teacher dreads more than changes in district policy, new standardized tests, and additional responsibilities required by the state – the angry parent. Nothing can ruin a day faster than being called to the principal's office to face a disgruntled, frustrated, or demanding parent. Managing the parent-teacher relationship can be a challenge for everyone. What can we, as teachers, do to develop a relationship with parents and minimize the angry encounters throughout the school year? The key is being proactive by informing and interacting with parents in a positive manner.

Informing

Keeping parents informed from the beginning of school is your first move towards managing the parent-teacher relationship. Most of the confrontations between parents and teachers result from a lack of communication from school to home. Gone are the days when parents sent their children off to school and trusted completely that the school and teachers would take care of everything. Today's parents want to know what their children are doing in the classroom and how it is being done. We live in an information age and that is exactly what our parents expect from us – information.

You can start by providing the basic facts to parents about your classroom expectations for student behavior and work product. Parents of elementary students will also want to know their child's daily schedule. Send home information about your classroom management and discipline strategies so there are no misunderstandings about what is expected and the consequences for making poor choices. Teachers should also send home the grading policy. If you or your school has a website, consider posting the more important details of your classroom policies here and refer parents to view it as needed.

It is also important to keep parents informed throughout the school year as well. A bi-monthly or monthly newsletter is a great way to let students and parents know about upcoming events, units, and due dates. You can also use the newsletter to explain commonly used acronyms, skills taught, or learning strategies used in the classroom. Again, this kind of information soothes those over-anxious parents who want to know what is happening with their child during school hours. The newsletter is also a great way to celebrate birthdays and offer a thank-you to volunteers and chaperones. If you and your parents have access to email, consider emailing your newsletter and other information. This will make sure the parent receives the information.

Lastly, make sure you send home notices when students are missing two assignments or have received two low grades. By sending home this information after the second instance, you are providing the parent and child more time to turn in missing assignments or to improve grades. Waiting until the last minute puts a strain on you, the student, and the parent. Just like with our health, early detection is the key to resolving a problem before it becomes a major issue. When receiving bad news in a progress report or near the end of the grading period, parent frustration will, more than likely, be aimed at you. However, when notified early, parents will put the heat on their child to improve grades and get assignments turned in. Otherwise, they cannot reprimand their children and support you in your efforts.

Interacting

Unlike informing, which is a one-way type of communication, interacting requires two people. Because there are two (or more) people involved, interactions are influenced by many factors. Some of these include cultural backgrounds, level of education, emotions, and personal agendas. As the teacher you approach all interactions with parents from one point of view. The parent will be coming to you with a completely different point of view. The levels at which these factors meet and are in harmony often determine the success of the interaction. So then, how can you create more positive interactions with parents?

First, initiate contact with the parent. Don't wait to be called. Take some time during the first several weeks of school to briefly call and talk with each parent. For secondary teachers this may seem overwhelming, but it can be handled by calling ten parents a night. You may even prioritize and call the parents of those students who exhibit signs of behavior and/or academic issues first. This will ensure that your first phone call is a positive one. Spread the rest of the phone calls out over the first month or two.

Begin your call by introducing yourself and offering a positive comment about the student. Next, ask the parents if there is any information they would like to share with regards to their child. This information could be very helpful to you in managing the behavior or encouraging the student to higher performance levels in your class. Remember, the parents know their children far better than you do at this point. If you are already noticing a potential problem, gently mention it and ask for suggestions from the parent in handling the situation. Next, encourage parents to ask you any questions they have at this point in the year. Near the end of the conversation, let the parent know the best times to contact you and offer your school number or email.

This type of phone call near the beginning of the school year will go a long way towards developing a positive relationship between you and the parent, especially if the child is one who will be a constant challenge in the classroom. Now the parent knows who you are and has experienced your interest in their child. They will be more likely to call or email you calmly with a concern rather than storming up to the school in a rage.

Second, be aware of cultural differences when interacting with parents. Should you address the father first or the mother when conferencing with both? Is it acceptable to call a parent by first name or will they consider it insulting? These little details can sometimes make the difference between parents who are willing to work with you and those who are not. Also, be aware of how your cultural background influences the way you interact with others. You may be more casual in your conversations which could be interpreted by other cultures as uncaring or flippant. Having a basic understanding of the different cultures within your school will help you better prepare for parent interactions.

4 comments:

leslie.lala said...

I agree about the multicultural theme however, what if you or your coworkers do not speak the language one of your students' parents?

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