Parents & Schools: Harmonious Parent Relationships

By Christy Keeler and Victoria Kilbury
Principal, September/October 2013

As principals, we want our students to grow academically, emotionally, physically, and socially. Parents share the same goals for their children. Nonetheless, conflicts intermittently arise between parents and school personnel about how to accomplish these goals. It’s important for principals to start the school year with basic tactics to create positive parental rapport, including approaches that can preemptively diffuse problems that are apt to strain relationships.

It doesn’t have to be a battle of school versus home with the child becoming a pawn. Instead, we need to encourage and embrace parents as partners to ensure student success. The following strategies will help you accomplish positive interactions with parents in your school community.

Preparing for Successful Connections
Principals need to develop approaches and practices to relate to parents, such as communicating school expectations and considering parents’ interests for their children. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to adopt these practices.

Use back-to-school night to educate parents about school and classroom rules, expectations, and academic objectives, and suggest ways to support children from home. Use technology such as the school website to post academic and behavior expectations and to keep parents informed.

Establish rapport with parents early in the year by contacting them with positive news about their child (e.g., high test scores, good sportsmanship). Keep parents regularly informed of their children’s progress in multiple ways (phone calls, interim reports, parent conferences, quick kudos emails) and intermittent handwritten positive notes (e.g., “I caught your child being great today” postcards).

Convey that you and the school staff care about the child and are creating instructional opportunities that address the child’s unique needs.

Be accessible to parents in multiple ways (e.g., email, phone, face-to-face conferences, videoconferences), and respond to parent communications as soon as possible. When problems are not addressed as they occur, parents can become explosive when new— even small—problems arise.

Encourage parents to attend and volunteer at school activities such as science fairs, career days, music programs, grandparents’ lunch, doughnuts with dads, and other similar programs. Be sure to include evening and weekend events that simulate activities that occur in core classes (e.g., family geography game night, mad science lab night, learning with movies, and book clubs). Seize the opportunity to share all the exciting learning events happening at school.

Create a parents’ advisory council to discuss ways to promote student success and enlist the school’s parent teacher organization to help improve home/school communications and relationships.

Conferencing When There Is an Issue
Principals should actively seek parental participation in resolving problems that occur at school. Conferences are best conducted in person, if possible, which allows ample time to reach viable resolutions. Prepare by keeping the following suggestions in mind.

Greet parents warmly, which creates a congenial setting. Be aware of body language while maintaining a calm, professional demeanor. Let parents know you welcome their participation in working toward their children’s success.

Listen. Empathize with reflective listening. Know that if the student has a problem at school, he or she may have a similar problem at home.

Be conscious and sensitive of any cultural differences, expectations, or language barriers that might impede communication.

Be cognizant of parents’ baggage. Some have had only negative school experiences so they arrive with a defensive stance. Ask specific questions to get to the root of the problem.

Deflect criticism by continuously refocusing on the goal of helping the child.

Include the parent (and student, if possible) when brainstorming solutions for specific issues. Be clear about principal, teacher, parent, and student roles in proposed action plans and student contracts.

Maintaining Parents as Partners
School leaders should be diligent and proactive in seeking parental involvement to discuss academic and behavioral issues involving students. Partnering with parents to address student issues is the best course of action. Make sure to add these steps to your plans.

Document interactions by recording outcomes of parent-teacher communications, listing attempted calls and outreach, and noting student progress.

After each conference, follow up regularly with parents to report student progress and determine if new solutions need consideration. Recognize that resolving some issues may take time and multiple solutions.

Involve other professionals (e.g., counselors, special education facilitators, or doctors) in solutions requiring expertise.

Introduce parents to school and community support services (e.g., social worker, counselor, or nurse) that can potentially assist the child and family.

If similar academic or behavioral issues are affecting many students, consider schoolwide interventions as well as individual student plans. Enlist parents to support schoolwide solutions by promoting awareness through newsletters, tip sheets, the school website, and evening workshops. Engage the entire learning community in improving and reinforcing proposed initiatives for student success.

A Good Start
School personnel and parents should focus on working together to empower students to make wise choices about their academic learning, behavior, and safety—both in and out of the school setting. Take time at the beginning of the school year to establish positive relationships with your students’ parents.

With parents as partners, your students will have high expectations and support for their learning from both school and home. Prioritizing students’ well-being and achievement will garner support from parents and the school learning community, and demonstrate to students that their success is paramount.

Christy Keeler is an independent education researcher in Las Vegas.

Victoria Kilbury, a retired principal, is an adjunct instructor at Northcentral University.

 


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