I have never been so excited as the day I started my first teaching job. I had spent all summer preparing beautiful resources and exciting lessons. And by the time September rolled around I couldn’t wait to step foot in a classroom.
What I’d never even considered though was the parents!
Straight out of university at 22 years old, I soon realised that teaching was about more than just getting it right with the children, it was also about getting it right with parents. And to be honest, I did not have a clue where to start. It certainly wasn’t a skill we’d been taught during teacher training.
I am sure in those early days I got it wrong many times – a particularly painful conversation about a netball match springs to mind!
Now sixteen years later, I hope I’m better at communicating with parents than I was back then. Having children of my own has definitely helped me to realise just how vulnerable parents often feel on a trip to visit the teacher.
So these are my top tips for working with parents:
Parents are your biggest resource and greatest ally.
Contrary to what I thought in the early days they are not trying to catch you out. They know their children better than anyone and if asked will gladly share strategies that they have found useful.
Parents want to be told the truth.
If their child is struggling with something they want to know. Tell them with kindness, explain what you are doing to help and ask them if they have other ideas that can help. They will appreciate being involved and more than that they will appreciate your honesty.
Parents want to feel as though you like their child.
If you have a child in your class who struggles to manage their behaviour, make sure you phone or send a positive note home at least once a week. Knowing you notice the good things their child does will make parents much more receptive when you call home when something has gone wrong.
Parents need to know you are on their child’s side.
The system is often stacked against children with SEND. If there isn’t extra support available because there isn’t funding for it, be honest that this is the case. Do not try to pretend that the child doesn’t need that support. Instead admit they need help and sit with the parent to develop creative ways of ensuring they do get help, whether that is through an application for an EHCP or through more creative solutions.
Parents are human.
Just like you parents have feelings. When it comes to their children these feelings are intensified. If they become upset or angry in a meeting, please do not take it personally or return those feelings. Instead say calm, reassure them that you understand why they are upset, and ask what you can do to help. Kindness is almost always returned with kindness.
Parents benefit from timescales and updates.
Let them know how long you will try a particular strategy for and what you will do if it doesn’t work. If their child is on the waiting list to see a specialist teacher or an educational psychologist, let them know how long the waiting lists are and tell them as soon as appointments come through. We all cope better when we know what is happening.
Parents deserve respect.
When I go into a meeting as a professional I am treated with immediate respect. My views are listened to. I am assumed to be objective and have ideas that everyone in the room takes into account. I am seen as an expert. It hasn’t always been that way as a parent though. As a parent all too often you are viewed as neurotic and as having a lack of academic knowledge. Your views are ignored. That needs to change. When it comes to their children parents should be seen as the experts.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.
Or why not join our private Facebook Group, which brings parents and teachers of children on the spectrum together to discuss strategies to help at home and at school.
If you join our tribe at the bottom of the post, you’ll receive a weekly email containing autism strategies and resources straight to your inbox.
And of course if I can be of any help then please just shout (or drop me an email).