Parent Communication Tips For Teachers
Talking to parents can be the easiest thing in the world if both parties are experts in communication. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some parents might show unprofessional behavior, maybe unintentional, by not taking your advice or even by blaming you. To help you not to waste any time or energy, to make your meeting with parents as efficient as possible and most importantly, to help improve things for the student in the end, it is important to have several strategies on how to talk to parents as a teacher in your toolbox.
If you are looking for ways to communicate with parents as a teacher – I am happy to help you out!
What successful teachers consider when talking to parents
Showing a Professional Attitude - Whether you show the right attitude or not is actually crucial for the success of your meeting. Now there might be different definitions of what makes a parent meeting successful, but in the end, all conversations are successful when everybody listens to everybody and a common agreement can be made despite a difference of opinions. A professional attitude is shown by seeing the parents as experts for their child at home just like you as the teacher are an expert for your student in school.
Listening, Listening, Listening - That is always the most important thing when having a conversation. Parents feeling comfortable around you because you listen to them and take them seriously are more likely to cooperate. You want parents to listen to you and respect your opinion as well, right? The more you listen to them, the more often you hear them all the way out, the more likely they will listen to you, too. Show parents you take them seriously with all their thoughts and concerns they might be having.
Building Trust - Actually, building trust comes first before solving any problems together. Parents need to feel like they can be completely honest with you without you judging them or telling them what to do. They start trusting you if you not only listen to them, but also show your personal interest in their specific situation and express your full understanding. Although you automatically judge them anyway when listening to them due to automatic processes in the human brain, you can push those judgements away by not telling them your opinion right away but by using my communicating with parents strategies for teachers and showing your understanding.
Talking about Behavior – Whenever you talk about their child and how things could improve in the classroom, make sure you only talk about behavior you could actually observe. It happens very easily to talk about how their child is, for example that it doesn’t like doing mathematics or that it is quite unorganized with its school equipment. But there is a fine line between saying how someone is and what someone does. The latter one can be changed easily but the first one refers to personality which is mostly stable. If parents hear from you how their child actually is, they will most likely start defending their child right away. But if they hear what their child does or not does, their reaction will be more constructive. Let me teach you how to talk to parents about student behavior.
Most important: Take the high road but don’t tell them
In a conversation that gets kind of heated and you feel is getting out of hand you can’t go wrong with taking the high road. There are several ways of doing that of course, but here are some of the most effective ways to communicate with parents as a teacher.
First, pay attention to parents’ attitude. If you feel like they don’t show the same kind of respect you show towards them or like they seem to think they are smarter than you, you should start managing their attitude to turn the conversation around. Don’t let any attacks get to you and always answer in a relaxed and friendly way. Start asking open questions which encourages them to think about details and get creative. If they notice you are not bothered at all chances are high that they will change their way of communication.
As soon as it is your turn in the conversation, your turn to talk about your point of view and your opinion, you should do that of course. If parents show an attitude of them being right about everything anyway, choose smart ways of expressing your opinion, like for example expressing it as a spontaneous thought you are having while hearing what they are saying or expressing it as an expert reading a lot of studies. That way you can let them know your real thoughts without explicitly forcing them on the parents.
Also, focus on the relationship to the parents. Try to build up a good relationship first before discussing any other issue. A good relationship is essential for constructive teacher and parent communication. Find things you have in common and show your full interest in their concerns. Even if building up a good relationship takes up all the time you have for a specific meeting, you can be sure the follow-up meeting will be most likely highly productive because you are talking to parents who feel comfortable around you.
Asking activating questions and handling criticism
Don’t underestimate the power of activating questions as parent-teacher conference talking points. Those questions can actually turn their attitude around to a positive and constructive one. The difference to easier questions is that they cannot be answered with a simple yes or no but require a more detailed and reflected answer. Activating questions automatically help with developing own ideas and being creative. Both of that is something you absolutely need when solving a serious issue with their child. The child always needs both, its parents at home and you as its teacher in school.
When handling criticism, the best approach is not to take any of it personally. In most cases, parents who behave in an aggressive way are for some reason not able to process their own anger properly without hurting somebody else’s feelings. Just think of that when being exposed to destructive criticism. Try to figure out the message behind the accusation. Make sure you stay friendly and relaxed to take the wind out of their sails.
That is indeed another very important thing to consider when talking to parents. Try to put yourself in their shoes: very often they are trying to juggle various appointments of their children during a day, working around nap time of the little one, meeting you in between dropping another child of at some place and picking it up on time again. And there is the emotional level, too. If they have no idea what to expect when meeting you and feel completely surprised, all that increases their perceived stress level and impacts their reaction towards you.
The best thing you can do is listening to them, paraphrasing what you understood and again, expressing your full understanding of what is on their shoulders. Ask what their child needs most of you, what kind of support would be best and then you could check what is possible. If you follow through all that, they will most likely listen to you, too, and agree to take over responsibility, too.
What can I do when parents just won’t take my advice?
Sometimes you give advice because you just know best what would work for the current issue based on your expertise and your experiences. If then parents haven’t even asked you for your advice but you tell them anyway, the most likely thing to happen is that they will nicely nod along because everything you say just sounds so reasonable for them. Of course, it does, because you mean well and you wouldn’t tell them anything that wouldn’t work. But what mostly happens next is that your well-reflected and perfect advice won’t be considered at home. This is due to various reasons, one of them is that it probably involves a change of behavior from the parents’ side and humans don’t change their behavior just because anybody else says so. It is not even meant in a hurtful way, it is just human.
Instead of giving unwanted advice, find out about their goal and discuss ways of reaching that goal together. Talk about what everybody can do and what the child needs the most in their eyes right now.
You are not responsible for parents’ behavior
In the end, you are not responsible for the way parents behave or react. They are of course responsible for themselves. Make sure to stay professional and become aware what you are really responsible for. If necessary, set and communicate your boundaries.
Even if you consider all recommended parent communication tips for teachers and show a perfect professional behavior, parents can still react in a non-acceptable way. There might be parents out there who hold you fully responsible for their child’s success in school, but be assured that you do not have to accept that at all. If you are facing parents who just refuse taking over full responsibility for their child’s progress in school, clearly talk about where your responsibility ends. Don’t let them have you deal with their own issue.
To learn more about having successful meetings with parents check out my on-demand class Talking to Parents where you can find a lot of helpful on-demand video tutorials and follow me on my social media accounts.