When I started my NQT year a decade ago, the most intimidating part of the job was the interaction with the parents, rather than the pupils.
I still had so much to learn and I worried that my lack of experience would be blindingly obvious.
I panicked quietly to myself, desperately trying to second-guess all the questions I might be asked. As a parent, I was aware of the critical glare I sometimes cast on my children’s teachers and realised that I was now going to be under the same level of scrutiny.
But in the end, I found relationships with parents to be some of the most rewarding aspects of my NQT year.
Here are my top tips on making a good impression from the get-go.
NQTs should smile
Pause the mental scrolling through your never-ending to-do list, and give parents a friendly greeting at the start and the end of the day. When my children were young, I’d feel like I’d done a full day’s work by 9am. But my son’s ever-smiley Reception teacher always ensured that I set off to work in a better mood.
Bear in mind that some parents have negative associations with school from their own childhoods and will be feeling apprehensive as they enter the playground. Being made to feel welcome can make all the difference.
Communicate often with parents, using different mediums. This will reduce misunderstandings about that Second World War pilot costume that needs to be in by next week, for example.
Messages on the school website and school Facebook can be invaluable for the working parent who needs to check at 10pm whether PE kit is needed tomorrow.
However, some parents prefer face-to-face interactions, and making yourself accessible for a quick chat on the playground can nip potential issues in the bud.
No, really listen. Even when you are pressed for time, give parents your full attention so that they know you are engaged by what they are saying. Something that may seem inconsequential to you can be a huge issue to others.
And remember, sometimes a parent just needs acknowledgment that you have heard them. Remember to follow up on anything you’ve agreed.
Celebrate success (but be honest)
A postcard home or a phone call to say how delighted you are with a pupil can leave a lasting impression. But, likewise, don’t shy away from having difficult conversations when they are needed - this will almost certainly backfire. You’re building a partnership and parents need to feel they can trust you.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie refers to humans as “creatures of emotion”. If you find yourself dealing with aggressive parents, remain calm, polite and diplomatic.
In my experience, these interactions can usually be diffused quickly with a sensitive approach, and you may find these parents become your biggest advocates. You have a common goal: you both want the best for that child.
Show an interest
At my school, a dad brought in treasures he’d unearthed as an archaeologist; a mum brought her horse in for our Highwayman topic; and a grandma spoke to my class about her experience as a land girl, hauling logs in the Second World War – all arranged after small talk in the playground.
The pupils loved having their family in school, and so did I. You won’t regret building a great relationship with parents.