Every student you teach may feel like your own child, and it feels like you’re responsible for them growing up with the right skills and attitude. However, an even bigger influence in a child’s life is their parents, so it’s necessary to establish a good relationship with them to be able to mould your students in a holistic way. Doing this isn’t usually easy, but keeping in tune with your students’ parents does not need to be a chore with the right efforts in place.
Before you even try to get in contact with your students’ parents, be sure to understand what makes them tick and any taboos that they may have.
Get to know the community around your school and understand their general approach to life and how they communicate with others. If the community speaks a language other than those you speak, you can consider learning some key phrases in your free time to communicate better with them.
This way, approaching parents once you understand their interests and dislikes will create a better quality bond and ensure you don’t commit a faux pas.
Technology makes it easy to keep in touch with parents through online avenues like Whatsapp, Telegram, or even email. Choose the right platform based on the community you are teaching in; if most of your students’ parents are corporate workers they would probably not mind communicating through email, while stay-at-home mums would probably prefer Whatsapp and Telegram. It’s important to note that in more rural places, it may be necessary to stick to telephone calls & face-to-face meetings.
While staying in touch with parents is good, remember to enforce boundaries and ensure you don’t end up feeling harassed. Be upfront about your availability with parents, and stick to the agreed hours when replying to them.
While it can be easy to contact parents only when there are issues, it would be better for the parent-teacher relationship if the teacher is not labelled as “only coming with bad news”. Class teachers especially will benefit in celebrating wins with parents without waiting for report card day.
When your students do something kind or if they show good academic improvement, contact their parents to share the happy news. This will also help improve your student’s relationship with their parents by providing conversation fodder.
Sometimes parents can have a hard time allowing students to try things beyond the realm of academics.
I remember an ex-colleague who wanted to bring her students from Sarawak to KL for a dance performance, and met with a lot of resistance from parents. After a lot of persuading and reassurance to the said parents, she managed to get permission for the whole troupe to go ahead.
Similarly, if your students voice out that their parents are against them engaging in a potentially beneficial activity, take the time to reach out to the parents concerned and explain in a neutral manner how the activity will impact their child.
If they seem reluctant, listen to their reasons and reassure them accordingly. If the parents still vehemently refuse, it is best to step out of the way if it may sour the relationship. In this scenario, speak to your student directly to help manage their emotions.
When it does come to a time where you have to highlight misbehaviours to parents, ask open-ended questions about the student’s behaviour and circumstances at home. Once you have enough data on the situation, provide possible solutions that will fit the context of the parent.
For example, if a parent is rarely at home because of work commitments, it will not help to say something like “spend more time on homework together with your child”.
Instead, ask if they can commit to a tutor, or if they’d be okay with their child staying over at school a bit longer to get their work done with you or other classmates. This way, it fits their way of life and they won’t be resistant to it.
The key is to do this without being condescending or judgemental about a student’s living situation. Maintain a neutral tone, and if parents fight back, keep your calm and ask them what they can suggest to resolve the issue. Keep it as a conversation, not a one-sided shouting match.
If the student’s misbehaviour continues, follow up with the parent with other alternatives. If they become non-responsive, escalate the issue to the discipline unit of your school to handle.
Parents can be great changemakers in the lives of students, and teachers can leverage on parents to create the intended growth in students.
Maintaining mutual respect and understanding with parents through contact and openness is the way to create a strong parent-teacher bond that will ultimately benefit the ones you teach.
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