Building relationships with parents

Melinda Ruskell explains why it's important to build positive relationships with parents.

Primary Teacher, Stobhill Primary School, Midlothian

During my teaching career my views on parental involvement have developed.

As a newly-qualified teacher I admit to being rather scared of parents, viewing them as critical and demanding. I'd dread the appearance of a parent at my door at the end of the day, or a phone call, believing that such contacts could only mean a complaint!

Following a very challenging first year in teaching and a number of less than positive encounters with parents, I decided that I needed to involve them in my behaviour programme from the start of the new term.

Behaviour contract

With the school's support, I sent home a behaviour contract during the first week of term, which parents had to discuss with their child and sign.

I also sent home a welcome letter telling parents a little about myself and outlining my intended projects, homework expectations and other practical information, such as when we would be doing PE.

During the first week I sent home a certificate praising each pupil for the good start they had made to the term. The reaction from parents and pupils was very positive and I felt I had laid good foundations for further communication.

Contacting parents to celebrate and share successes makes it a lot easier when you have to get in touch to sort out more difficult issues.

By communicating your behaviour expectations and consequences with parents you are valuing the role parents can play in supporting the teacher to fulfil their child's potential in school.

Dealing with angry parents

It would be naive to think that communication with parents will always be positive.

If an angry parent does arrive at your classroom door it's vital that you do not deal with them on your own. Asking a colleague to step into the room and sending for the head teacher is essential.

Very little will be achieved by trying to reason with parents when they are upset. Suggesting that they arrange an appointment in the morning with the head teacher to discuss the issue is one way of getting them time to calm down and reflect on the situation.

Parental anger is not always directed at you, but can often be the result of having to deal with the backlash that difficult situations can have on the home.

One of the most common causes of such anger is when a child has been in a fight in the playground. In these situations I try to phone both sets of parents to explain that there has been an incident and what action the school has taken.

I also ask parents to discuss the incident with their child and to go over the behaviour rules that have been broken.

Parents' evenings

Parents' evenings provide a formal opportunity to discuss a child's progress and for parents to view their child's work.

There should be no real surprises waiting for parents at these meetings. Finding out that their child has behaviour problems at parents' evening, or is struggling academically is distressing for any parent. These issues should be shared and solutions discussed as soon as they arise.

It's also important to start with the positives at parent meetings. I always begin by asking parents what they think of their child's work, and then outline what I see as their achievements (however small!) before raising possible areas for improvement and areas where parental support is needed.

Involving parents

In my previous school we held "bring our parent to school days" in the infant department with parents spending a morning in the classroom actively participating in their child's learning experience.

This scheme proved so successful that we decided to extend it to include the older classes. At some time in the school year pupils wrote to invite their parents or carers into the classroom to view some of their work

Of course, there are some parents who seem reluctant to become involved in school no matter how hard you try to involve them.

For some parents their own experience of school was not positive. I've spoken to several parents who have admitted to being very nervous about coming into school, that coming in to see the teacher or head teacher brought back memories of their own school experience.

The teacher is often viewed as the expert and many parents are happy to defer to this expertise. It's important to make parents feel valued for the contribution that they can plan.

Sending out a list of suggested ways parents can become involved in your classroom work can help. Asking for help with projects is one way of tapping into the skills parents may have and teachers may lack!

These are just some of the ways to build good relationships with parents.