"Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first." -Matthew Jacobson
I keep this quote at the heart of my classroom. Each day when the first bell rings and my students skip down the hallway into my classroom, I am reminded that their parents are always their first champions. It is this thought that keeps me knowing that every interaction I have with my students, is also an interaction I have with their parents.
I believe that we must not only build relationships with our students, whether they be in the classroom or in a tutoring setting, but we also must build relationships with our parents as well.
It is important we think of our parents of our students as a part of the larger learning picture. These are the people who have raised our students, loved our students first, and who are their first champions. It is our parents who are our students’ first teachers. We are always the second. This knowledge pushes me to embrace my student’s parents, welcome them always, and to love them as if they were a student in my own classroom.
We as educators can actively bring parents in as partners in the learning experience in several ways.
Make Parents Feel Welcome
As a new school year begins, parents are excited to meet their child’s teachers, but they are also anxious about the upcoming year. Parents want to know if their child’s needs will be met, if the teachers will like their child, and if their child will be seen.
For tutors, these are some of the same criteria that parents will consider when deciding whether to hire a candidate or not.
To start with, it is important that we learn the parents first and last names, knowing that the mother’s last name might be different from the father’s last name. Using the parents’ names at each meeting shows they are important to you.
Another way we, as educators, can help make parents comfortable is by simply smiling at parents when we meet them. Then making sure we shake their hands or hug them. While speaking to parents by name establishes a relationship centered on respect, how we choose to physically greet them validates the sincerity of that relationship.
Taking things a step further, I always make sure that during the first few weeks of school I place pictures of each individual student in frames on the main wall of my classroom. Then, around that wall, I add the pictures of the families as I see them on registration, orientation, or special events. I call this our class family wall and tell parents that they are a part of this class family too. They love finding themselves next to their own child’s pictures. This simple classroom wall makes parents feel they are important in our classroom.
You can also make parents feel welcomed when you see them in public places. Instead of having parents approach me, I always go up to my parents using their names with a warm handshake or hug. I then tell them something I have enjoyed about working with their child.
More often than not, their reaction is to reply with a story of their own. I love listening to any story they are willing to tell me that might help me better understand their family or their child! I make it a point to remember these stories for future use in the classroom. For instance, if a parent tells me their child has been loving painting in class, I make sure we paint more often and tell the child that their parent reminded me of their love for the arts.
These types of relationships help students see that there is a real connection between their parents and their teacher. It establishes a sense that there is a team of adults in their lives actively caring for them and their growth as people.
This year one parent said to me, “I know one thing that helps me is when the teacher is genuinely interested in our family as a whole. I think it is easier to understand the child when you take time to understand the family.” When families see that we are actively welcoming them into the learning relationship, they can’t help but feel more involved in their child’s education.
Invite Parents In
Inviting parents in our classrooms is key! Parents don’t automatically know when they can come into the classroom or if they are welcome in the learning space. One way we can change this is by making it a point to invite them in for visits or small class events.
Each year I invite my parents in for two or three authors’ celebrations. The students each look over their writing from the current unit and decide on a favorite writing piece they want to publish. The students then present to their parents at a celebration.
I have held celebrations where the parents come in for cookies and listen to the students read. Other times parents are free to travel around the room and listen to many different authors read.
I have also held bigger events like “Camp Tell A Story” where the classroom is turned into a camp ground. The students share their writing over a campfire while eating s’mores and listening to the crickets chirp (thanks to YouTube and our class projection system).
You can hold an event like this in your classroom by making it as simple or as elaborate as you want.
Parents can be invited for any sharing event including PBL projects, debates, mother or father’s day celebrations, and even class awards ceremonies. When parents are invited into your room it makes them see that the classroom is an open place where everyone is welcome. It also gives them an important glimpse into both their child’s day and into their child’s life.
This type of classroom invitation is truly a gift we can give our parents each year; it can build a lifetime of memories for both parents and students while also establishing a powerful opportunity for student growth.
Use Open Communication
I have found over the years that the more open I am with communication, the better the year goes for my students and me. There are many wonderful tools that now exist for parent communication such as Seesaw, Remind, Class Dojo, and Bloomz. All of these apps allow a teacher or tutor to communicate with parents by sending messages, pictures, videos, and texts securely through email or straight to apps on parents’ phones.
Allowing parents to view pictures and videos of their child in action gives parents a crucial window to the classroom; it allows parents to feel connected to both you and the learning experience.
The more transparent we are with parents about what is going on in the classroom or during a tutoring session, the better prepared they can be to support our efforts. When parents understand what their children’s pathways to educational growth look like, it becomes that much easier for everyone involved to use that understanding to promote student growth.
Admit When You Make a Mistake
One thing I have learned from my years of teaching is the importance of admitting when you make a mistake. Many of times as educators we want to show the people around us that we know what to do in every situation; we have everything under control at all times.
There are times, however, when we do make mistakes. It could be at school, in the classroom, or with a parent. One of the best things we can do when making a mistake with a parent is admitting that mistake and apologizing as soon as possible. We can then tell the parent how we plan on fixing the mistake or ask them how they would like us to handle it.
When situations have arisen where I have made a mistake with and humbled myself to admit it to parents, I have found that it ultimately led to a stronger relationship with those parents. The mistakes seemed to add a humanness to myself as an educator and show the parent that I was humble enough to admit when I did something wrong and both willing and able to apologize.
If we continue to remember mistakes help us learn and that failure is feedback, we can show our parents that we will be just as understanding when they make mistakes. In turn, this humble honesty will make the parent/educator connection stronger over time. Similarly, for tutors, it may be the very thing that prevents a client from becoming a former client.
Talk about Their Child’s Talents
One simple goal I have during any planned or unplanned parent conference is to make reference to a student’s talents and strengths (be they known or hidden). I always let the parent know something I have noticed that may have gone unnoticed.
During these same conferences, I make sure not to overwhelm the parents with a ton of things the child needs to work on, but instead, I give one academic and/or one behavior that can be improved upon over time. This helps the parents see that their child is seen in class, that I know their child, and that I love their child. It also helps the parent focus on the one most important thing the child needs to work on.
We can always improve upon our talents, so it is vital we tell parents the talents we see. These talents don’t have to be academic; they might be building, running, coding, creating, dancing, music, or singing. By making it a point to emphasize a student’s strengths, whatever they may be, parents hear something positive about their child that may have gone unnoticed. This positive affirmation helps make a positive connection between the parent and the educator.
I have used all of these practices over the years and have found that my parents feel welcomed in my classroom. They know that their child is loved, but they have also shared with me that they feel loved. To make the greatest impact we can with each child, we must welcome the parents and create long lasting relationships. Each child needs a champion, but our students’ parents often need one, too.
Always remember that your students’ first teachers and champions are and always will be their parents. By embracing parents and bringing them into the learning process, whether it be sharing in person, on social media, or in the classroom, we are doing our students a great service. We owe our students more than a relationship with them, we owe them the gift of a relationship with their parent.
Blog piece by Alana Stanton first featured on Knowledge Roundtable site below:
Alana Stanton is a kindergarten and technology specials teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She has taught several grades over her 14 year career including K-3 literacy special, first grade, second grade, and kindergarten. Alana believes that relationships always come first in the classroom and the classroom should be a place where students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. She currently writes for her blog, More Than A Lesson where she shares the stories of her classroom and her heart.