Boost your relationships with students’ parents

February 15, 2016

Many schools experience issues around liaison with some ‘hard to reach’ parents.

Sending notes home, leaving phone messages, waiting outside the room at student departure time, trying to chat at sports day, school approved home visits, arranging meetings via family workers or sending meeting reminders via Class Dojo are all techniques that can have some success. But for some ‘hard to reach’ parents, especially if you’d like them to participate in face-to-face meetings, these may not be enough.

getting_parents_to_meetingsBeing mindful of strategies that might cater for diverse family schedules is important. It’s also worth considering early intervention strategies that can help to build a strong foundation of respect and motivation to participate in face-to-face meetings.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Early in the year send home a note setting expectations for parent involvement, affirming key school or classroom rules, and procedures for meeting with you. In addition, most schools have a ‘meet and greet’ early in the year, or a ‘Tell us about your child’ meeting. These are opportunities to build relationships and expectations for parent involvement. To encourage early parent involvement set or foreshadow a term one or semester one invitation for parents to watch group or individual student presentations in the classroom.
  2. Build a classroom and school culture of engagement. Make ‘emotional deposits’ on a daily or weekly basis, to celebrate student successes and to increase the strength of your relationships with children and indirectly with their parents. This helps children and parents feel more comfortable with you. Make a deposit when children keep to a commitment, exceed expectations, demonstrate new learning or works well with others.
  3. Have a ‘welcoming approach’ with parents. Parents who are reluctant to attend meetings are likely to have had a negative experience with a teacher or a school, perhaps going back to their own schooling. Consider helping the parent to address this issue if it appears to remain a barrier to participation in their child’s schooling. A simple reminder that schools and teachers have changed over the last two or three decades may be enough to help some parents ‘let go’ of a negative experience. A prompt that reminds parents that meetings aim to assist their child may also help.
  4. Respect people’s time. Most people believe they are time poor. Where possible, find out each parent’s preferred meeting times and methods for communication. Start and end on time. Sometimes two short meetings can be more effective that one long one.
  5. Be time efficient in the meeting. Review your communication style with adults, particularly if you have a tendency to go on a bit! Teachers, as part of their professional repertoire, are used to explaining in detail and revising what they say for students. While this can be useful for some parents, it doesn’t suit all. In addition, make sure you have all materials and resources you wish to discuss on hand so you don’t need to waste meeting time looking for a student’s work sample, or relevant article.
  6. Get to know each parent individually and treat them accordingly. A key time to get to know parents is at enrolment or at first point of contact. Try not to let this opportunity pass, particularly for parents who enrol their child during the school year. Set a meeting at the point of enrolment or within 48 hours if possible. Capitalise on other times to meet ‘hard to reach’ parents. It can be useful to schedule a short meeting just before a social occasion at school. This may suit at least one or two ‘hard to reach’ parents.

For further ideas, Psych4School members can access the Create great working relationships with parents document. Not a member? Join here.
Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologist