First, let me start by saying that I firmly believe in the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." Parents/guardians are often the most influential part of a child's life. As teachers, we spend an average of anywhere from 45-60 minutes a day with a student = 3.75-5 hours a week. Compared to the other 160+ hours they are with someone else.
So why wouldn't we want to team up with the person/people who interacts with the child the most?
I've worked with parents in various capacities: as a youth group leader, a chaperone, a teacher, a babysitter, a neighbor, and a friend. I have seen the most loving and the most neglectful parents. I have witnessed the parent who is a little too much and the parent who should be more concerned. Despite the awful environments some of my students have grown up in, 95% of my interactions with parents have been normal and even helpful.
I don't have any horror stories. I don't dread conferences or phone calls. I enjoy meeting the person responsible for raising my students. I believe a large portion of why I feel this way is because of the mindset I have toward the relationship.
I want to give you five steps to encourage your relationship with parents/guardians, as an educator. I promise you these will positively impact your mindset on teaming up with parents/guardians.
1. Keep communication lines strong from day one.
Whether you chose an email or a physical letter, send something home on day one. At the beginning of the year, I like to collect emails and phone numbers. I also love sending a quarterly email/newsletter. I also want parents/guardians to know my basic views on teaching, and goals for the year, from the first day. My letter isn't long, complicated, or too much. It's just a simple introduction and a way to say hello.
2. Call home within the first week, for good things you notice.
A professor in college always told us to do this, and it has always stuck with me. Parents expect a negative phone call with concerns. I love to hear the shift in their tone when I call home to say something awesome their students did in class.
Some examples of positive things to say (even for those kiddos that drive you bananas).
-(For the wild child who can barely sit down) Jack has a lot of energy, which I really appreciate. I wish I could borrow his energy. Jack is eager to help with extra tasks around the room, which makes my life easier.
-(For the kid that seems a little stuck up and kind of scares you) Alex is one of the more quiet students in the class, but I appreciate her personality. Alex is one of a kind. Her uniqueness has drawn me to her, and I hope to get to know her better.
-(For the student is defiant and misbehaves...a lot) Amber is extremely intelligent and quick-witted. She likes to challenge me, which keeps me on my toes. I appreciate her reminding the class of our rules and expectations. I know she can be a real leader in our class if we work together as a team.
-(For the student who has cussed you out already, or seems like they could...maybe it's just me this happens to? Haha) Caelynn seems very strong-willed, which I want to channel into her learning. I appreciate her fiery side and hope to use it for good.
Those are just a few examples of common personalities I have had in class, that isn't always the easiest to find something kind to say.
3. When you make those positive phone calls, ask a little about the student.
This is an opportunity to start building the relationship by hinting at any concerns you have in a loving way. For any of the scenarios listed above, you can ask for help.
Examples: -What are some ways I can help Jack stay focused when he has a little too much energy? What do you do to help him? -Alex is a little hard for me to read so far, I want to get to know her better. Are there certain things she really enjoys that I could integrate into our learning? -How is Amber's behavior at home? Do you have any ideas of rewards/motivational techniques I could use to help her?
-Caelynn and I have had a bit of a heated moment. Is there something specific going on in her personal life that is making school challenging for her?
4. Make sure you ask the student about their relationship with their parent/guardian.
There are always two sides to every story. I have had countless students who say how awful a parent is, only to find out they are just being a parent and the teen is just a little angsty. Yes, there are situations where parents/guardians can be fake and manipulative (worst-case scenario), but I promise you'll sniff those people out. Make sure you approach a parent/guardian with a fresh perspective vs. what their student has said about them.
5. Make students self-evaluate for conferences.
This is my FAVORITE thing to do at conferences. Although I teach high school, I still can see 15+ families in one night. Days leading up to conferences, I have a self-evaluation form for students to use. The sections include behavior, work habits, social interactions, and overall grades/assignments.
My students always evaluate themselves exactly how I would. Usually, they are harder on themselves than I actually would be. Even if a parent/guardian doesn't show, it gives me a chance to see how they think they're doing and have a mini one-on-one conference with them.
A lot of our students come with their parents/guardians to conferences, which is also helpful in building the team approach. I usually let students lead the conference if they're there. I want them to take ownership of how they're doing. Click here for a link to another blog post I have titled, "5 Tricks for Student-Led Conferences." This post shares a full look into how to implement student-led conferences as I described above.
At the end of the day, we only spend a small portion of time with students. I know how influential educators can be, but their home is the largest factor in their development. I hope you are able to build a community with parents/guardians from day one. I think you will quickly find major rewards in working as a team.