I am an elementary school principal and a former classroom teacher with over twenty years of experience building strong relationships between school staff and parents. I work with parents daily and I view them as valuable assets to the classroom and to my school. Over the years, I have worked with a range of parents: from those who rarely communicate with school staff to those who are a constant presence on our campus. This is what I have learned about how to engage parents in the most positive way possible:
Establish collaborative partnerships. Parents can offer support and assistance in the classroom. Parents can also serve as valuable allies in the community once they realize how hard you work in the classroom or in the school setting. Welcome their input and involvement and they will appreciate you and be your community ally.
Start positive and stay positive. Begin parent conversations with positive news. Parents love to hear what their children do well. As a principal, I schedule time every week to call parents and tell them positive news. These calls have a profound impact. Parents tell me that they cherish these messages about their children.
Deliver your message in the most personal way. If you have sensitive information to share, try to tell parents in person. If that’s not possible, call them. Parents appreciate the time you spend communicating with them and they appreciate hearing the sound of your voice. Avoid sharing sensitive information by email: email can be impersonal and emotionless, and written text in email can be easily misconstrued.
Aim for a response time that is prompt, but not hasty. Parents appreciate when you respond to them within 24 hours. This time frame lets them know you are responsive. This time frame also allows you the time you may need to collect your thoughts and write a professional response, in the event that parents have said something that startled, frustrated or upset you.
Be an active listener. If parents are upset or disappointed, show them that you are actively listening to their concerns by telling them “I hear what you are saying.” You do not need to agree with them. Simply give them the time and space to share what they need to say and acknowledge their words.
Consider compromise. If conflicts arise, consider compromise. By showing parents that you are willing to work with them, you’ll earn their respect. For example, if a parent is unable to volunteer at a requested time, consider creating a customized volunteer schedule for that parent so that they can play a role in the classroom or in the school.
Present parents with a range of specific roles they can choose from in the classroom. Parents like the opportunity to make choices. Present them with a range of different jobs that they can do in the classroom. Additionally, be specific about what each job entails. Parents who are given the opportunity to select the job that best matches their skill set and interests will be eager to lend a hand.
Be appreciative. Always thank parents for their assistance. Brief, personal notes are greatly appreciated. Remember to let parents know how important they are to you and to the academic success of their children.