By Cindy Schwartz, Co-Founder and Director of Secondary Education
This blog post is an adaptation of “The Parent Connection,” an episode of the Attentive Teaching Podcast. Our podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms.
Let’s discuss the Parent Connection.
That’s the connection that teachers and parents have, a connection that isn’t always as easy and comfortable as we might want it to be. Luckily, there is hope. It can be a mindful, positive experience, and isn’t that what it should be?
Connecting with your student’s parents is an integral part of your job as a teacher – it’s unavoidable. And yet, this connection, just the simple act of connecting itself, whether by phone, email, text or conference, is often fraught with tremendous anxiety on the part of teachers and parents.
And why is that? Isn’t our role as teachers one of caretaking, communicating and advising?
Why would connecting make us so anxious?
What Are We Afraid Of?
Maybe it has something to do with the way individuals react to stress and anxiety. Remember: parents are individuals too. They are often as stressed and anxious to talk to teachers as teachers are to talk with them.
A 2015 article in Psychology Today defines stress as a “reaction to a change,” while anxiety is defined as “the anticipation of something threatening coming your way.” Perhaps what makes teachers and parents stressed and anxious about their interactions with one another is right there in these definitions.
Both parties wonder if their potential conversation may cause some sort of change, which they both might be uncomfortable with or reluctant to do. Additionally, the anticipation that the conversation might threaten them both in some way could also cause these parties to be on high alert.
This anticipatory stress and anxiety about connecting with one another could ultimately cause both the teacher and parent to avoid contacting one another. This sets the stage for potential misunderstandings and miscommunications in the future.
That should never happen.
And it should never be that way.
Diffuse, Empathize, Assure, Love
I have found that there are some simple, doable ways that you can, as a teacher , take the stress and anxiety out of your interactions with parents.
I call it D.E.A.L: Diffuse, Empathize, Assure, Love.
I firmly believe – and have practiced this often as a teacher in the trenches for almost thirty years – that the best approach to connecting with parents is to contact parents immediately. This goes both for when their child does something either highly commendable or highly questionable. Contacting parents for the positive work their children are doing in the classroom is as important as contacting them for the problems or issues you might be seeing. When a student has participated well in my class, I have called home that afternoon and connected. I’d say, “I loved how Michael voiced his opinion today on some legislation we were debating “ or “Anna really seemed to enjoy our art poster project on the Spanish American War.”
Additionally, you must connect with parents if you see any behavior that is questionable or challenging. I strongly suggest making a telephone call as opposed to sending an email.
Diffuse the situation by first sharing all of the positives you see in their child – creativity, humor, insightfulness. Then follow with the incident at hand that has concerned you. Ask the parent if they have ever seen any of this behavior at home.
Work on a solution together. Ask what works at home. After all, it takes a village. Promise that you will check in regularly and share whether or not any new approaches to handling the child’s behavior are working.
Never argue, never rush, never judge. Be friendly, supportive, understanding, and validating.
You can diffuse any immediate situation or future situation by connecting on a regular basis for the good and challenging behaviors of your students. Their parents will welcome your ability to see their child as a whole human being – in all lights.
Don’t ever put off connecting with parents – you will be rewarded for your attentiveness.
When contacting parents, try to imagine what their lives are like.
Can you walk in their shoes? When I became a parent, empathizing with the daily responsibilities of parenting and balancing parenting with work helped me to have more compassion and patience for both my students and their parents.
If you’re not a parent yourself, consider a time when you were feeling stressed or anxious. Let that memory envelop you as you talk with a parent who might be experiencing stress and anxiety.
Empathy creates a path that links you with another. It creates connection, and connecting with your student’s parents helps you to better understand your student and ultimately helps you connect to humanity as a whole.
Calm is created when we see ourselves as a part of humanity, not separate from it.
Contacting parents is a proactive way to assure them that you are in control of the classroom and that each child is safe in your care.
Regular conversations with parents about the daily goings on will calm their anxieties about what they might perceive as threatening events on the horizon. When you check in with a parent, they share with you that a new baby is on the way at home or a move is in the works or that a divorce has just been finalized.
When you call parents often, or contact them in some way on a regular basis, they will feel safer and more vulnerable. Then they will be able to share information that will allow you to understand their child better.
Connecting like this, along with assurances that you want to know the whole child, will build trust and make conversations, even difficult ones, easier in the future.
Finally, feel love during your day.
Feel love and gratitude for your awe-inspiring job that allows you to watch children grow and evolve. Feel love and gratitude for your students and each of their innate abilities. Feel love and gratitude for parents who love their children and simply want you to love them too.
Then, wrap all of this love and gratitude with love and gratitude for yourself.
Your decision to spend your days with children to help them recognize and reach their potential as creative and loving human beings is what makes you and the work you do priceless.
How do you connect with your students’ parents? What has worked for you in the past? Has remote learning impacted that connection? Let us know in the comments!
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