"Hello, my name is Mr/s. _______________, and I'll be your son/daughter's teacher this year." Those are usually the initial seeds of the parent-teacher relationship. It's a blank slate, an empty canvas, an opportunity to start the school year on a positive note. The teacher gets to erase the memories of the "mean parents" of yesteryear and the parent gets to forget all about the "incompetent teacher" the year prior. There is so much conveyed and interpreted during the first encounter.
Teachers have the task of maintaining professionalism at all times, regardless of the Teacher-Parent relationship. From a teacher perspective, developing and fostering relationships is very difficult. Take, for example, Open House. At this event, there are multiple parents, multiple students, and countless opportunities for you to interact with parents. How do you handle your parents? The inquisitive parent? The "My questions are most important" parent? Although Open House is a snapshot, it really starts the relationship, for better or for worse. Of course, you do not want to isolate, snub or cut a parent off during their attempts to make a connection. You want the Parent-Teacher relationship to start off on the right foot and stay there. How can you navigate this potential landmine? Glad you asked. Let's take a look:
: When parents start to put you in "Information Overload" mode or make the Open House their own conference time, politely explain that you want to give them your undivided attention so you are asking them to sign up for a brief conference to be scheduled in the near future (have a sign up sheet for parents who want a brief conference time to discuss additional info). This not only gives the parent the desired time to discuss their child but also gives you the opportunity to move about the room to meet, greet and speak to every parent.
: You teach people how to treat you. The same concept applied in the classroom is applied outside of the classroom; set boundaries. Let your office hours be known, and highlight the times you typically check and reply to your emails and voicemails. Promote the use of email versus phone and avoid sharing your phone number at all costs. While some instances may require phone communication, reiterate email as the preferred method. Fight the urge to befriend or regularly socialize with students' parents; in the event that you have a friend's child in your class, take time to explain/maintain differences between those relationships. Prevent overlap in the Teacher-Personal Friend and the Teacher-Parent relationships. Identifying parameters can make or break your relationship with parents. Compartmentalization works best.
: For Elementary, incentivize the Friday Folder and other forms of non-phone communication. For example: Students who bring back their Friday Folder, signed, get _____________ (whatever is decided). Reinforce email communication through virtual newsletters, informing parents on what's going on in the classroom, upcoming assignments, tests, projects, field trips, etc. Being prompt and proactive with emails reiterates this as the preferable method of communication. Contact parents to give good reports, parents like to know their child is doing well.
At times, the school year can be long and arduous but an amicable relationship with the parents of your students makes your hard days less difficult. Those relationships can also determine the gifts your students give you during the holiday season and end of the school year... Just joking, but who doesn't like a good candle or baked-good during the holidays?