Teachers Need to See School Through a Parent’s Eyes
When I began teaching over 20 years ago, I was single, fresh out of college and barely more than a child myself. And yet I still thought I knew everything about children — which just goes to show you should never underestimate the mistaken confidence of youth.
Today I’m a married father of three with two decades of educational experience plus multiple opportunities to continue my formal learning. Just as I have changed over time, so have my views.
And this applies most especially to how to work effectively with parents. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve learned:
Avoid the us-vs.-them narrative
“That must be great work except for the parents.”
I hear this time and again when I’m at social functions and I tell people about my work in schools. While I have come across a few parents who have pushed boundaries and become unreasonable, they represent a tiny minority.
Even so, it’s easy to fall into the simplistic narrative of “parents bad, teachers good.” Resist that mindset whenever you can. After all, casting parents as opponents is a terrible way to help their children.
Recognize their leap of faith
Because parents love their children, sending them off to school — outside their direct supervision — requires a leap of faith. Don’t underestimate the emotional impact of this leap.
When you’re sending communications home, make it a point to reinforce the measures and practices you have in place to ensure student safety.
Take it easy on the advice
I like to point out (with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek) that I knew everything about being a parent up until the moment I actually became one.
Inevitably, parents will ask you for help and advice. Be sure to share your thoughts when asked, but always approach your guidance from the perspective of helping rather than directing.
Nobody likes a know-it-all, and especially from someone who hasn’t walked in a parent’s shoes.
As a superintendent, I often meet with parents bringing concerns to my attention. Experience has shown that the best strategy is to let the parent share their history, concerns and opinions before I interject any thoughts.
Serving as an engaged and interested sounding board, with eye contact, nonverbal prompts and positive body language, goes a long way to reassure the parent that they are being listened to.
Speak clearly and plainly
Like all professions, education has a lot of advanced terminology and explanations that will fly directly over the heads of non-teachers.
Make it a point to be as plainspoken as possible when working with parents. Avoid using school-specific terms to describe a child’s progress and be prepared to explain complex acronyms. You will be doing a parent a tremendous favor by using language that is clear, direct and easy to relate to.
Excellent teachers set the groundwork for positive relations by reaching out to home before a pressing need arises. In my teaching years, I would occasionally spend a few hours after school calling parents to pass along helpful information about their children’s progress. Waiting until report cards are due to pass along bad news is one incredibly toxic way to sour what should be a positive relationship.
Remember: Not everyone loved school
When I was a vice principal, I would have to invite parents in from time to time to discuss a child’s misbehavior. Upon settling into the chair, parents often said one of two things: Either they remember what it was like to get called to the principal’s office, or they never had visits like this when they were in school.
This serves as a reminder you will have parents who didn’t enjoy school. The moment you begin to discuss their child’s struggles, you reawaken emotions and memories that they may not have accessed for years.
It’s important to reassure parents that you’re standing ready to help them as necessary, and you understand that parenting is a complex task that no one is ever truly ready for. You’ll almost be able to hear the exhalation of relief coming from across the table.