By Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)
Relationships with students’ parents can feel overwhelming, especially for new teachers. You were taught how to teach kids. But probably not how to cope with parents, grandparents, divorced and blended families, or other caregivers. Yet developing positive, supportive relationships with the families of your students can make the school year a more effortless and rewarding experience for everyone. Here are three tips to try to get off on the right foot.
At the beginning of the year, I provide parents an opportunity to write me an email or fill out a form about their child. If they cannot speak English, I encourage them to write in their native tongue, and I will find someone to translate it or use an online program. If they cannot write, I will make an accommodation and have a conversation with them, no longer than a few minutes, at some point before or after school. It takes extra time, but it is that important.
Information to ask for includes the following: What do they think are their child’s strengths and weaknesses? To their knowledge, does their child act differently at home than at school? What have their experiences been over the past year(s) at schools? Have they always attended this school, or have they changed schools over the past few years?
You may receive a number of responses, or you may receive only a few. Either way, by providing families the opportunity to tell you what they see in their child, you help build a bridge, and you send the message that you are in this together. And I always glean a ton of information from these notes. There is so much that parents can share about their child. And the more open parents feel, the better.
Be Clear About Expectations
Start the year by clearly explaining your expectations of both students and families. What are your homework policies? What are the policies for volunteering in the classroom? How does grading work? How will you communicate with families, and how should they communicate with you? The list goes on, but what is most important is that you are upfront and clear. Have these systems worked out before the school year begins so everyone can move forward knowing what to expect from one another.
Don’t be overzealous about what you promise. Making promises you cannot keep is a recipe for disaster. It will break trust. Think about a time when a friend didn’t show up on time or at all. The next time that friend wants to make a plan, you’re probably not as quick to agree. The same goes with parents. Don’t promise to do a class play and then not come through. That will disappoint both parents and students.
Keep Families in the Know
Last but not least, let families know what is happening in class. Whether you think they are reading your notes is beside the point. Share what is happening next week, what you did this week, and any other information, such as celebrations, field trips, upcoming vacations or days off, and other relevant events. I even like to share a photo from a class trip, too. Parents love that. If you start the year sending some information home each week, parents will feel more comfortable and will trust you more.
Keep your parents in the loop and you’ll find that they are that much more supportive of you and what you are doing in class. Good luck!
Otis Kriegel is a 15-year veteran teacher, having taught in dual language (Spanish/English), monolingual, and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms. He received his M.S.Ed. in bilingual education from the Bank Street College of Education and has taught at the Steinhardt School at New York University. Otis has also been a guest lecturer at the Bank Street College of Education, City College of New York, and Touro College. He created the workshop, “How to Survive Your First Years Teaching & Have a Life,” which was the impetus for his book. An experienced presenter, Otis has conducted this workshop with hundreds of preservice and new teachers and continues to present in universities and teacher education programs. Otis now resides with his family in Berlin, Germany, where he teaches at an American international school.
Otis Kriegel is the author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)
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