There are a number of ways in which parents and teachers can be set at odds with each other, and those paths are all too well defined. But there are as well many ways in which the two can be led closer to one another, and that is the map I wish to look at here. Some very basic “messages” consistently and constantly communicated can be instrumental in winning parents and influencing students to love, respect, and support your teaching.
One of the assumptions that is no longer valid in education is that parents naturally trust and respect teachers. They must be won. Whether that has always been so or something new, it is true at the moment. To win parents to your side, your messages should include at least the following three clear statements.
“I love your child.” Nothing could be more important or need to be stated more plainly than that you love your students. This should never be in doubt in a parent’s mind, even when you are challenging their children to new heights of excellence and performance. I am quite often amazed at how much this needs to be said and how quick teachers are to forget to state it. You cannot overemphasize this point. It cannot go without a lot of saying. And actions are much louder than words.
“I want you to be a part of my class.” Most parents assume that teachers would like to see as little of them as possible. The way you win them is to convince them of the opposite. Here is the little conundrum I observe quite frequently. When a parent feels they are out of touch or even excluded from the classroom, they become quite visible at the classroom door, wanting conferences, asking questions, “attacking” teachers in hallway conversations, etc. But when a teacher takes the time and effort to include the parents in what is going on, to be communicative and open with their teaching, then the parents wind up backing off and actually being there less, but actually being more involved in the process.
“I am going to communicate with you no matter what.” None of us like confrontation. And most of us have grown up in a culture where far too much “conversation” is really closer to confrontation than anything else. So it is natural, but quite destructive, for teachers to want to hole up in their space and seek as little contact as possible. They refuse to respond to phone calls, emails, notes, and even avoid conferences. This just kills their platform for relating to parents. Be open, be available, and be very clear that no matter what the obstacles, you want to talk it through. If it is clear that you want to communicate, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to do so.
Another assumption that must be debunked in a teacher’s mind is that students will just naturally love my class and thus me. Again, some basic clear messages need to be restated over and over.
“I am for you and your success.” Integral to influencing students is being clear about the fact that you do what you do so that they can be better. In our school materials, we use the notion of preparing students for the good life, the life well-lived, the best life possible. If this is clear in your words and actions, you will influence students. Note that I am stating you will influence them, not necessarily that they will think you are cool, or neat, or the most loving teacher ever. Many of my best teachers pushed me as a young man and I pushed back (with consequences) and sometimes needed some time to give them their due respect and honor. That was me, not them causing the delay. I knew they loved me, but they sure had a tough way of expressing it. If your actions state clearly, “I want you to succeed,” then there is good reason to believe you will influence them for good.
“I love you.” This cannot be said enough. I am not talking about anything other than proper redemptive Christian love. Students should see, know, and hear from you that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for their good. If they get any signal that you are in the classroom for yourself, you will lose them. If they see and hear evidence that indicates you are there because you love them, they will follow you to the ends of the earth, and beyond.
“I know you.” Kids are not numbers. Teaching runs the risk of reducing them down to grades, or labels, or classes, or such. When a teacher falls prey to such a temptation, there will be trouble. But when a teacher has moved beyond just the surface knowledge of a student to what is going on within, they will quickly unlock the motivations, passions, and loves of that student in their classroom and then you are off and running.
I know these sound basic, and they are, and there is nothing wrong with basic. Meditating and contemplating these things can only make us better teachers.