Whether you are just starting out in teaching or are already an experienced professional, the importance of good relationships with your pupils’ parents cannot be underestimated.
Throughout education policy there is an expectation that parents and teachers will work together, but in practice there is often a lack of understanding and little direction or support around how these relationships can be achieved.
Here are some steps you can take to improve your relationships with parents in the New Year.
- Little and often
Teaching is a demanding job, but try investing just a few minutes a week in your relationships with parents. As early as possible, communicate something positive to parents about their child. In a primary setting, a photo with a caption about how well the child approached a task, or a picture of the work they completed, takes seconds to send on a school tablet. In a secondary setting, a phone call communicating good work may be more appropriate.
- Reach out
Don’t assume parents who are more remote from school life have little interest in their children’s education: they may have barriers to coming in, such as complex childcare logistics or work shifts which make it difficult. Reach out to these parents. They may feel intimated by the school setting or feel what they have to offer isn’t significant. Find supportive ways to make meetings possible, whether it is by changing the times you usually offer or by providing simple activities to occupy younger siblings who may be present with their parents.
- Don’t leave SEND to the SENDCO
Good parent-teacher relationships are even more important when a child has special educational needs. Ask parents what has helped their child previously to inform your own approach to supporting the child and making them feel confident in your classroom. This might include adjusting where a child is seated or providing handouts in advance. Wherever possible, sensitively involve the child in these discussions.
- Encourage involvement
Parents have a huge amount to contribute to the school community. Perhaps they can share their specialist skills by supporting a programme of talks or lectures throughout the year, or by taking on pupils for work experience. They may also be able to help with reading or to support extra-curricular activities. Audit your parent body to find out what skills they have and what they would like to contribute. Remember that other family members may also like to be involved and find ways to invite them to support school activities.
- Look and learn
Identify two key points in the year to send out anonymous questionnaires to assess how parents feel about what is going well and how you could improve relationships even further. Hearing positive feedback, as well as constructive ways to improve even further, can be really useful.
Dr Susanna Pinkus is a learning support specialist at Harrow School and an educational consultant for the Dukes Education Group. She is the author of How to Create a Parent Friendly School.