Six Simple Strategies to Strengthen Parent-Teacher Relationships
As teachers, we know the importance of parent engagement. We feel it every day. Ample studies demonstrate that children reap the benefits when parents and teachers are on the same page.
Sometimes forging strong relationships with parents can be easier said than done.
We start the year with the best intentions, perhaps dreaming of implementing a curriculum night where students demonstrate their favorite materials, or devising plans for a weekly classroom newsletter that explains the Montessori materials.
But then the school year begins, and Robert Burns whispers in our ear: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
It can be one of the first things to slip on a teacher’s to-do list, especially when normalization occurs, but cultivating strong parent-teacher relationships is worth the investment and doesn’t have to take up excessive time.
While coordinating a series of parent education nights or hosting a monthly book club are ambitious and exceptional ways to engage parents, they aren’t always feasible.
Instead, consider these six strategies to strengthen relationships with parents that take little to no additional time:
Share Good News
Celebrate your students’ successes. Commit to sharing positive observations with parents throughout the year, not just during conferences. By doing so, you send the message that you care. Additionally, you’re also developing a positive rapport that will be useful should any behavioral or learning issues arise.
Set a goal for yourself. Perhaps you will reach out to one family after every school day. Or maybe you will reach out to everyone in your class once per month. Set up a simple excel spreadsheet or use a traditional grade book to track when you reach out to parents, ensuring that you consistently communicate with every family.
Keep your messages short and simple. Sending a brief two-three sentence email is all that it takes:
I just thought you should know that I observed Vivian helping one of her younger classmates carry a work to her rug this morning.
Arlin asked the most interesting question during today’s lesson on photosynthesis. I thought you’d like to hear about his thinking.
At the start of the year, be sure to prioritize new families.
Developing this daily habit is a way of homing your observation skills, all while strengthening school communication.
Amplify Student Voices
You’re busy. Parents are busy. The world is busy. It’s no wonder that parents don’t always take the time to read our weekly correspondence, folder handouts, and classroom newsletters.
A lot of school communication with families gets ignored. But it’s information that needs to be shared, sometimes including important details and deadlines.
When do parents take the time to read school communications? When it features their child.
If you already send home a newsletter (in digital or paper form), incorporating student work into your correspondence will increase readership, strengthening communication channels and relationship formation.
Some straightforward ways to integrate student voice into your communications include:
- Inserting a picture or two of children working into the newsletter
- Including a poem written by a student
- Sharing one or two student quotes from a recent class discussion about a read-aloud
- Inviting older students to write articles for the newsletter
When parents know that they may see their child’s work featured in an email, they’re more likely to click through and read what you have to say.
Connect on Neutral Territory
Most teachers have positive memories surrounding their years attending school.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone shares a fondness for being in the classroom. For some parents, being in their child’s classroom can bring back negative childhood memories.
Just walking into a classroom can bring back uncomfortable memories and put a parent on the defensive.
Understanding that some parents will better connect with you outside the four walls of your classroom allows you to forge strong connections even with resistant parents.
If you notice certain parents are shying away from you or appearing anxious at drop-off, this may indicate that they’re uncomfortable in the environment. Instead, take advantage of the times you have together outside of the classroom to connect. Some of the best conversations with parents can happen in brief exchanges during pick up or drop off or while hiking in the woods on a field trip.
Perhaps your school hosts an annual festival or a day of service. Use these events as opportunities to form connections with families, especially those who often avoid your classroom. Take advantage of the opportunity to break down walls.
Grant Grace and Assume the Best
It can be easy to get emotional with parents, especially when the topic of discussion is challenging. We work so hard to create perfectly prepared environments and thoughtful learning opportunities. We are invested in our students.
When dealing with sensitive topics, it is vital to approach conversations calmly and with a clear mind. Prepare your thoughts ahead of time and enter the discussion with a plan.
Grant grace and assume the best intentions. Give parents the benefit of the doubt. Of course, you would want them to do the same for you.
Teaching is a partnership. Approaching difficult conversations from a place of love and focusing on how to help the child will keep tough discussions from going off the rails.
Cut the Jargon
Normalization, the planes of development, cosmic education—there's a lot of jargon in the Montessori philosophy. It's a language that even traditional teachers don't always understand.
If you don't take the time to translate, you may be unknowingly speaking in another language.
Reflect on the terms you use and know your audience. Think through what you say and how you say it, ensuring that you use words that parents either already understand or that you take the time to explain.
Utilize Back to School Nights and other parent education programs to expose families to the materials and Montessori terminology.
Humanize yourself. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that teachers are people, too. And sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to forget that we are also human. The identity of a Montessori educator can become all-consuming.
If you’re a naturally funny person, show your comedic side with parents. If you’re an avid gardener, let that be known. Are you feeling proud of yourself for running a marathon? Share your victory with the community.
Relationships require a two-way street. If you only share at the surface level, your relationships with parents will only go so far.
Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine. Authenticity builds trust. When we show our true selves to families, we invite them into a meaningful relationship where all involved are set up to thrive.
About the Author
Kira Hinkle (she/her) is a Montessori educator turned freelance writer. She is AMS credentialed (Elementary I). Contact her at email@example.com.