Seven and a half hours is not enough!
Oftentimes we wish we had more. But that's all we usually get. So we do all that we can in the time we are given and then we pass the baton to parents and guardians.
It's only fair. They are their kids! Yet, how often do we worry that our steps forward will be undone the moment students leave our sight?
I imagine this is the very same worry parents have when they hand the baton to us. I can't lie. There is always going to be a part of me that worries about the well being of my children when they are not in my care. No matter how awesome their teachers may be.
This only further emphasizes the importance of building a strong bridge between home and school. We must connect and we must do it well. Here's how:
"It's not about having enough time. It's about making enough time."
If a parent has taken the time to connect with you, whether it be in person or by some other means, make every effort to be available to them as soon as possible. It may not always be convenient and it may not always be what you had planned. But I have found that the sooner I am able to meet with a concerned parent, the sooner I am able to put their mind at ease.
Concerns rarely, if ever, diminish over time. Consequently, when we make ourselves unavailable, or we tell a parent that we don't have time for them, we are essentially saying that what we can not meet with them because something else or someone else is more important than their child. And while we know this is rarely the case, this is the message that is often heard.
School Isn't Everything
"The most important things in life are the connections you make with others."
When you meet with parents let them know that while school is important, there is much more to you and their child than just school. The odds are that when a parent wants to meet with you, it will be to discuss a school related issue. Listen. Discuss. Problem solve. Then talk and share and learn. From and with each other.
Learn what matters to them. Learn what matters to their child. Share with them what matters to you.
If you have children, share this with parents. They seem to think that we are experts at parenting and that we don't share similar concerns. Little do they know, that we struggle too. We may be educators, but we are not perfect parents. Once we admit this, walls come down immediately and genuine connections are made.
Give to Get
"What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do."
Yes their kid made a mistake. Yes you would often give them a specific consequence. But this parent came in as soon as you called them. They obviously share many of the same concerns that you do. And they are willing to work with you to help their child move forward.
We must seize these types of opportunities! Sure we can conduct business as usual. Or we can give the child and the parent a break. I don't believe this is a sign of weakness. I think it is a great way to get parents on our side. A great way to build relationships. Think back to the last time someone gave you a break when you didn't deserve it. How did it feel? I'm betting you never forgot it. I'm also betting that you feel a stronger connection with that person today because of it.
Love Their Children
"If you don't like someone, the way he holds a spoon will make you furious. If you care about someone, he can turn his plate over in your lap and you won't mind."
Without a doubt, the single most important way to gain parents' support and trust is to treat their children well. We can be polished and professional when we meet with parents. But in all honesty, if we haven't treated their children with respect and dignity, then anything that comes out of our mouths is just noise. Because they talk with their children. And their children talk with them.
The students we serve will either sing our praises or curse our existence. It all depends on how we treat them each day. Really this shouldn't even be an issue. But it often is. How we could possibly expect our relationship with a parent to be good if our relationship with their child isn't? It's virtually impossible.
Give Me Just One More Minute
As previously mentioned, seven and a half hours often doesn't feel like enough time to accomplish everything that we wish we could. We often worry about the other sixteen and a half hours our students spend away from us. Since most of these are spent with their parents, it is crucial that we build strong relationships with them. And I truly believe that if you try some, or all of the strategies mentioned above, you will find that your impact on your students will stretch far beyond the seven and half hours they spend with you each day.
I would be interested to hear any additional suggestions you may have for building strong partnerships with parents. Let's learn and grow together!