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8 Tips to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Students’ Families

By Amanda Morin

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

Having a positive relationship with your students’ families will allow you to share concerns and work together to help students who learn and think differently thrive. Here are effective ways to build a good rapport with your students’ parents or caregivers.

1. Imagine yourself in their place.

Building a relationship with families starts by approaching them with empathy. Consider the perspective of a parent or caregiver whose child was recently identified as having a learning or thinking difference: The family might be uncertain about what this means for their child’s future or fearful that their child won’t receive the right support. Or they might still be processing the news, and unsure of how they feel.

For students who have struggled with learning and thinking differences for years, their families may have had several negative experiences with the education system in the past. Keeping that in mind can help you understand why a student’s parent or caregiver might be on the defensive from the start. Remember also that some learning and thinking differences run in families, so biological parents may come to the parent-teacher relationship with emotions about their own struggles and experiences in school.

You can use questionnaires to connect with students and families to get a better sense of their concerns. No matter the family, know that parents and caregivers are on their own journey.

2. Begin with a positive interaction—and then keep it up.

When you first reach out to families, start with something good. Introduce yourself, share something you enjoy about their child, or simply let them know you’re available if they’d like to speak. But the good news doesn’t have to stop there. Aim to share a piece of good news with each student’s parent or caregiver at least twice a month.

3. Find out how families prefer to be reached.

Not all people are comfortable talking on the phone. Some parents and caregivers are unable to take time off from work to meet in person. Explain that there may be times when an in-person meeting is more appropriate, and agree to reach out to one another with plenty of notice to schedule those meetings. Ask if the parent or caregiver has a preferred way of communicating. Then honor that preference. In cases when email is appropriate, consider that your tone may be hard to read in an email. Learn how to write an effective email that frames your message in ways that can help you get a positive response.

4. Gather your thoughts in advance.

Draft what you want to say before a meeting or phone call to families. While you may know what you want to talk about in general, creating a bulleted list can help you prioritize and keep track of your thoughts. It can also help you remember what you want to say if the conversation becomes emotional or if a parent or caregiver doesn’t respond as you expected.

5. Use “I” statements.

Frame what you say from your perspective by using “I” statements. You can start sentences with “I noticed,” “I am concerned,” or “I feel.” These statements are an empathetic way to share your thoughts with a student’s family and may help them not take the concerns personally.

For instance, saying “Why isn’t your child turning in homework?” may put a parent or caregiver on the defensive. This may shut down the conversation. Instead, you could say, “I notice your child hasn’t turned in homework for the last few weeks. Has your child spoken to you about it?” This explains your concern and allows for more conversation.

6. Set boundaries together.

Let families know you’d like to establish a two-way relationship that honors the parent or caregiver’s knowledge of the child and your knowledge of education and learning. Share that you’d like both parties to be able to talk candidly in a way that promotes productive conversation—all with the shared goal of ensuring their child’s success in school.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done, so establish boundaries for conversations. Try these suggestions:

  • Agree to arrive promptly for appointments and wrap up meetings and calls within the time you’ve allotted.

  • Suggest that you’re both allowed to speak without being interrupted.

  • Encourage families to share their perspectives. Show respect and appreciation for their knowledge. In return, ask families to consider your point of view as a professional.

  • Explain that you assume everyone comes to the discussion with the best of intentions.

  • Agree to discuss commonalities you both know about the child, but also be open to hearing information you didn’t know.

  • Ask families if they have any boundaries around the conversation they’d like to follow, too.

7. Communicate clearly and be solutions-oriented.

When you begin a conversation, be up-front about what you want to talk about and what your expectations of the family are. If you simply need to share information or voice your concerns, make sure that’s clear. Or, if you’re looking for solutions to a concern, let the parent or caregiver know you’re asking for input to find the best solution together. Provide your own ideas for solutions, too. For example, if you know of an accommodation you think might help, suggest it and ask if the family has tried something similar at home.

8. Send a follow-up email if needed.

A follow-up email after an important conversation can serve many purposes. First, it gives you the chance to thank families for their time. It can also help both you and the family process your discussion and summarize any decisions and takeaways. It also gives parents and caregiver a chance to add any lingering thoughts or questions.

Reflect on your practice: What have you done to successfully build a positive relationship with a student’s family?

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Share 8 Tips to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Students’ Families

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom