It’s July, and for some teachers, school has already started; for others, it is just weeks away. A new school year with new students and yes, new parents and families to get to know. For some, the scholars and parents are returning, but newness and healing in the relationships are very needed.
Transformation in schools happens within and because of positive relationships. The power of shared goals, trust, and working together both during times of struggle and success is at the core of all human relationships. The caregiver, teacher, child relationship is the same; there is so much power for transformation that we as educators have access to if we create the right environment. The tips below make it easy, fun, and instinctual for strong relationships to be at the core of your classroom culture.
Tip #1: Exude the Values of Friendship: Partnerships and friendship share some key features. As humans, we typically partner and befriend people we like! Teachers, find that bond of friendship with your students’ parents/caregivers. It might be as simple as a conversation about a favorite color or food that breaks the ice. All too often teachers go the route of trying to be the ‘parent’s teacher’. For parents to truly become partners they need to see who we are and trust that we see who they are as people as well. Friendship is typically balanced and the goal is first to know each other, be heard, and encourage. When teachers don’t approach family members in this same way, trust begins to break down immediately because they may sense a lack of respect and humanity.
Tip #2: Praise! Every parent I have ever met, including my own, has two things in common. First, parents love their children and second, they are fearful that their child will not succeed. For some parents, these truths are on the surface and visible. For others, these truths may be buried underneath the trauma of negative experiences. Regardless, every parent longs for another person to recognize and affirm the value and worth of their child. When teachers praise young scholars authentically for intrinsic worth and accomplishment early on in the relationship, parents begin to trust. Moms, dads, and other primary caregivers transition the mindset of a “teacher as a babysitter” to someone that truly cares for their child and wants the best for them. Babysitters complain, but teachers see a child’s strengths and builds on them. This is especially important at the beginning of the year and must be done intentionally with the whole class. One efficient way to do this is to create a celebration video for each student during the first week of school. Record one sentence of praise for the student and send it out via text to each parent. Send the video on the first day to parents of students you feel may struggle most as time goes on. This will support the one to one relationship with your students who need the most support from both teacher and parents.
Tip #3: Don’t Give Up! I may be cheating here because this tip is a component of success for just about everything. Regardless, it matters in the parent/teacher relationship immensely. Trust takes time, authenticity needs to be tested, and people from different avenues of life sometimes struggle to find common ground. I have seen that many teachers simply give up too soon. They allow past failures, an unfriendly tone, or even a misunderstanding to predict what is possible. The truth is that the importance a partnership bonded by knowing, loving, and bringing up a student together as teacher and parent requires grit. Many parents are waiting for teachers to give up, but trust is earned when teachers continue to reach out to parents. For example, when you’re struggling to get in touch with a caregiver, why not deliver a handwritten invitation to grab a cup of coffee at McDonald’s for 15 minutes? There is always a way to show someone they matter and are important to you. Additionally, parents may not always know how to support their child. Focusing the relationship on small wins like a parent celebrating a child’s success with you is key in building the momentum of trust. When you have trust, then you can truly partner with parents and family members closest to your scholars.
Finally, have you tried all of these and still hit a wall? Nothing replaces going to the source. Sometimes the most effective thing to do is to humbly ask, “What can I do?”. In this case, specifically ask your scholars’ parents, “What can I do to support our relationship and make it great for you and your child this year?” Asking the question matters almost more than the answer.
By Wanda Perez, Principal of Academy of Health Sciences Charter School in Rochester, NY
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