My farmer husband has a favourite saying that he likes to use on the regular; ‘You reap what you sow.’ Yes, apt for his occupation, and annoyingly, he likes to repeat it to me when I am being a bit lazy, or taking shortcuts- and he is almost always right!
Because the fact of the matter is that in so many situations in life, what we receive is a direct result of the amount of time and effort we put in. Sure, there is often an element of luck, but we can nearly always influence situations to tip the odds in our favour. And it works in reverse too- I remember a rather jarring sign I saw at a gym once that read ‘Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t put in.’ Ouch!
When it comes to building relationships with our parents and families of our students, I reckon the old reap what you sow adage stacks up. And throw in a personal favourite saying of mine ‘No surprises’ and you have my tried-and-true formula for increasing the likelihood of developing effective partnerships between school and home. I would always speak to my staff about ensuring that when it came to communication with parents and carers, there were to be no surprises about their child’s wellbeing, academic progress or behaviour. No one wants to receive the end of semester report card with the shock news that their son or daughter is struggling to keep up in mathematics, nor do they want to be called in for a meeting with the Assistant Principal to discuss ‘ongoing concerning behaviours’ when there has been no previous suggestion to that effect.
We regularly talk in schools about the importance of true partnership with families to support our students’ achieving their potential, but too often we tend to leave this to chance. I am a firm believer that when it comes nurturing a strong relationship with our parents and carers, the ball is firmly in our court, and the first serve is ours.
Yes, establishing and maintaining positive partnerships takes concerted effort and a little bit of our time, however this truly will be a situation when you will reap the rewards of your investment.
Every bit of (personalised) communication is an opportunity to deposit trust in the bank that you very well may need to call on later. Anytime I have needed to make ‘that’ phone call to a parent to get their help with a situation involving their child has been made all the more successful when; a) they know who I am and b) they know I know and care about their young person and genuinely want to work together to support them.
There are many ways that we can intentionally develop more fulfilling relationships with families- some of them can be planned for and diarised, while other opportunities will pop up for us and we just need to capitalise on them in the moment. I spoke to a variety of teachers and leaders around how they go about investing in relationships, and along with some strategies I’ve used myself, here are some top tips to make sure you start the year off strong in this department;
- Make a commitment to call (highly recommended) or email (second best) parents and carers over the first few weeks of school to check in and share something positive about each student. This is different from the generic introduction communication email or newsletter.
- Utilise your school communication app and commit to one positive quick note/photo home each day. Link in parents and the student. Link in leadership too if you have the capacity.
- Dedicate the first 5 minutes of any team/faculty meetings to home communication- then it becomes a habit.
- Make a habit of reading the local papers to see if any students have their name in the sports results so you have a great conversation starter.
- Show up at local community events- sports, fetes, parades. You don’t have to stay all day, just showing your face and support can pay huge dividends.
- If you teach younger kids and their parents like to congregate outside your classroom before and after school, you have a captive audience!
- Find out what skills/ knowledge/experiences your parents have that could be utilised in a volunteer capacity or even as a guest speaker.
- Encourage all families and students to attend conference night, not just those with academic or behavioural concerns.
What other strategies do you swear by to get parents and carers on the same page?
Whack them in the comments below and let’s start 2024 with purpose and positive intent. And hopefully a bumper crop at harvest time!
Check out other articles Kirsty has written here.