Teachers College gives our student teachers excellent advice about how to build relationships with our classes, but seems to give slim guidance on how to build relationships with staff, community and parents/carers. In reality, our relationships with our students is directly proportional at times to our relationships with those who know them best - their parents/carers. If we spend time establishing these relationships, we will allow ourselves the opportunity to get to know our students deeper and in a much richer sense - through the eyes of someone who knows them best.
So what advice would be best to give new teachers/student teachers about building relationships with parents?
Well, let's look at the 'typecast' parents we meet along the way - and remember that I, too, am a parent of school aged children so even I fall into one of these categories!
- The OTT parent - sometimes known as panicus parentus - this is the parent who constantly calls the office worrying about their child not having enough morning tea to drink or forgetting to wear their hat at lunchtime.
- The Intense Parent - also referred to as analus retenticus this parent is typically in the face of every teacher their child has, telling them about their dreadful health problems or issues with friends, and needs to e-mail 15x a day to let the teacher know about every event that may affect their child.
- The Laid Back Parent - affectionately known as flatus parenticus - this is the parent who treats every event in their child's life as if it was a non-event. When their child is in any trouble, they blow it off as 'boys will be boys' or 'she does that at home too, never mind'...
- The Disinterested Parent - named parenticus distancicus - this parent is the one whom we NEVER meet, in fact, we spend all year wondering if the child invented their parent!
- The Balanced Parent - called parenticus realisticus - this parent is concerned when things go wrong but is generally realistic about it, supportive of the teacher and has the know-how to realise that most teachers are professionals who love kids, love learning and are genuinely interested in the best for their child.
There is certainly a mix of parents in every school and the majority are fabulously realistic people who well remember their years as a school child. They are passionate about their kids and truly want to support their child's teacher and school in helping their child to be the best that they possibly be. I am being extremely tongue-in-cheek when I type-cast parents - I actually spend all year building and growing my relationships with all of the parents in my class and can proudly say that I have taught many siblings over the years and had lots of happy - as well as some not-so-happy - professional relationships with the parents of the children at our school.
In terms of 'how to build relationships with parents', there are only a few wise ideas that I have to share.
- favour honesty over ease - never take the easy way with neglecting to tell parents the whole story about their child. No future teacher wants to see shocked parents who never knew there was a problem. Honesty can be the hard blow to deliver but it is, without exception, always the right choice.
- listen 90% of the time and ask questions the other 10% - it's pretty simple. Just do it. Parents feel valued and listened to when you listen. Let them be the ones to tell you things. Everyone is ready to hear when they have been listened to first.
- create time to be available before and after school - parents get 2 opportunities to talk to you, relate to you and hear about how well you know their child - before school and after school. They are NOT an inconvenience and they are NOT only to be spoken to at interviews. If you have not met them and talked to them before you report to them, then you are not making yourself available as a teacher.
- communicate in the methods of the time/area you teach in - if you are in a lower decile school where the internet is unavailable, find other ways to communicate. Get your class to write invitations, create posters for the windows or send interesting home-made brochures. If you are in a school where Facebook and Twitter are encouraged and used well by the staff and community, then use the language of the time and the methods of the time and communicate through these.
- be open to what parents have to share about their children - parents, more than anything, want to know that you KNOW their child and that you VALUE them, the parents, as the experts on their children. Let them fill you with anecdotes and stories of the portrait of their child and you will be alive with the amazing knowledge of who these children are as people first and students next.
You will find that parents will be happy and positive if you are open to them - they are only wanting to know that the person who moulds their minds is actually aware of who lies within them.