With school already on the horizon, it is time for elementary teachers everywhere to dust off their rain sticks, construct new job charts, and practice their stern looks in preparation for a new academic year. There are many things teachers must attend to in setting up their classrooms and managing all these tasks can be a challenge. But come the first day, the classroom will be bright and inviting, name tags will adorn the desks, and the classroom library will be on display.
A key bit of preparation that should not be overlooked concerns parents and our relationships with them as we take charge of their children for up to eight hours a day in the coming months. For many teachers, creating and maintaining good parent relations is either intimidating or overwhelming. However, a strong link between school and home is integral to the educational success of any student. Maintaining strong home ties can ease the predictable stresses teachers already experience on the job, like managing mountains of paperwork, dealing with tiresome or explosive social behaviors, or navigating delicate professional relationships with other teachers and administrators. When partnerships are productive and positive, your students’ families can become sources of valuable information and support through the entire school year.
Time is a finite resource for a teacher. There is always something more to be done, something lingering until tomorrow something that didn’t get done as intended. Events like impromptu school meetings, necessary phone calls home, special supply orders, or mandated testing often interrupt the more natural rhythm of just talking to children all day long. Teachers must be adept at using time wisely.
At the beginning of the year, create a contact list for all the parents in your room. This document will come in handy for quick reference when you need help planning an event or need to attend to a behavioral concern. Spend time early in the year developing parent relationships with people who can help you in the classroom. If you can learn to delegate responsibility and include parents in your community, you may save time in the long run.
Be welcoming to parents and encourage your students to be good hosts to your classroom guests, but also be confidently clear about your boundaries. Your classroom is your domain. You have been trained well and you need to explain the exact reasons for your decisions while maintaining your professional autonomy. Be respectful and specific. Most parents want to trust the person their children spend all day with and hope you are also strong willed and concise with the students. Let parents know how much time you have to spend with them, even if it can only be short, and then give them your undivided attention for that time. Make sure they understand that you have many obligations and don’t let them monopolize your time unless it is a serious matter. If it is serious, do whatever you can to remedy it together as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Communicate with parents what strengths you see in their child. Be genuine in your observations and specific in your feedback. School should be a safe place for everyone to express themselves creatively, solve difficult problems together, and grow personally. By nurturing and encouraging what children are good at, you can build upon a relationship that prepares them when they find other things are harder.
Children will persevere because they, and you, recognize that they already do so many things well. With practice they can overcome barriers to learning and achieve more. A positive attitude is the key to learning. Parents respond better to hearing news that is more complicated or emotionally charged, such as retentions or special education, when they already know you celebrate their child’s positive attributes.
This relationship requires that all the partners involved acknowledge that they bring certain things to the table. As a thoroughly educated and highly qualified certified teacher, I am confident in my methodology and my deep knowledge of how children learn. I am also confident that each parent knows their child like no one else can know them. They are the experts on their child. Each of my interactions with parents, especially at the beginning of the year, necessitates I communicate my qualifications and my reasons for doing things while strongly differing to their intuition and input.
Not only is it important for teachers to communicate their policies and reasons behind specific decisions affecting the child, it is important that teachers listen to parents talk about their children. Family stresses, like moving or illness, can affect a child’s ability to learn at school.
The classroom is a busy place with many variables in play. Take the ambiguity out of your relationships with parents by working towards strong partnerships from the start. A free give and take between parents and teachers to bridge life at school and home is a foundation of academic success. The stronger the foundation, the higher you can build.