Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

3 ways to strengthen parent-teacher relationships

A big part of teachers’ jobs is maintaining good relationships with parents.

And parents, like students, have widely varying communication styles, expectations, and preferences. Even though teachers are expert at working with people, miscommunications and misunderstandings are bound to occur. That’s the nature of any relationship. As the new school year approaches, we hope teachers can find grounding and guidance with these three tips for making strong connections with parents.

1. Re-examine your communication tools.

What communication techniques are in your toolbox when it comes to connecting with parents? You may have more options than you think. Gwen Pescatore, president of the Home & School Association, has put together a Parent Communication Toolbox listing a wealth of technology tools like apps, social media, and e-newsletters that can help parents and teachers connect. (One thing teachers repeatedly tell us they like about Sights is being able to connect with parents on students’ progress.)

Communication methods vary.

Before implementing communication strategies, it’s critical for teachers to first understand the tools parents have available to them. The goal is to be able to communicate with all parents in the mode or modes that work for them. Professor Joe Mazza recommends giving parents an opportunity to respond to a quick, 2-minute paper survey at Back to School Night. It might look something like this:

Face-to-face meetings are valuable.

The Parent & Family Engagement Manifesto notes that opportunities for face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers is especially valuable. To help engage parents who are difficult to reach, schools can consider strategies where parents can serve as ambassadors with other parents in their communities.

Parent-teacher meetings should be held at times that are friendly to parents given their varied and busy work schedules. Schools should evaluate the need for including interpreters at meetings and events, as well as the benefit of distributing materials in multiple languages

2. Prioritize positivity.

Parent-teacher communication so often becomes necessary only when a problem needs to be addressed. But if teachers reach out to parents only when a student is in trouble, it can harm the relationship with the parent, who will come to dread hearing from the teacher.

Dr. Curwin and other teachers suggest a more positive approach, such as the three-call method where teachers reach out to parents with good news at least twice before calling about bad news.

At the beginning of the school year, the first call teachers can make to parents would simply be an introduction. “I just want you to know how happy I am to have David in my classroom this year,” you might say, “and to let you know that if any problems should occur, I’d be happy to talk with you so we can work together to make things better.”

The second call would be to tell parents about their child’s good behavior, improvement, or quality of work.

Only then, after two positive calls have been made, Dr. Curwin suggests, should the teacher reach out regarding an issue or problem. That way, the relationship begins with a foundation of trust and positivity before parents and teachers have to address something more serious.

Of course, it will not be possible for all teachers to carve out time to call all parents. Likewise, it may not be that all parents are reachable by phone. Whichever communication methods you employ, the central idea is to begin on a positive note, however you can.

3. Start from a place of empathy and understanding.

Sometimes it can feel like parents and teachers are on totally different pages, but often, they both want the same thing. The trouble is that parent-teacher communication can be strained, ineffective, or nonexistent.

Understand where the communication breakdown starts.

Dr. Richard Curwin, director of the graduate program in behavior disorder at David Yellin College, says communication breakdown between parents and teachers usually happens for two reasons:

  1. Judgment, when parents and teachers judge each other based on what a child says or does (like a teacher judging parents based on a student’s behavior, or parents judging a teacher based on what a child reports having learned or experienced in the classroom). Often, Dr. Curwin says, “Good kids want their parents and teachers to like each other. Troubled students want the opposite.”
  2. Dumping, when teachers struggling with a child’s misbehavior in class end up calling the student’s parents to report the problem in an unproductive and unstrategic way. Likewise, parents may call the teacher and blame him or her for their child’s poor grades or performance. Each party “dumps” the problem on the other one, expecting the other to come up with a fix.

Act as allies instead of adversaries.

When communication happens primarily through the child, parents and teachers don’t have an opportunity to build their own relationship. One solution Dr. Curwin suggests is that parents and teachers come together as a team in the way they communicate. He recommends teachers focus their language to be team-oriented by saying things like, “Since we both care so much about David, let’s work together to find a way to improve things.” It’s helpful for parents and teachers to remember that they have the same goal and that is that both want the best for the student.

Create opportunities to work together.

Likewise, for parents and teachers to understand and trust each other, they must have opportunities to work together and talk about their goals.

“Effective parent engagement and school-family partnerships must start with a sense of shared goals and principles,” advises the Parent & Family Engagement Manifesto, a collection of key design principles for effective engagement practices developed by Portland Empowered.

To get there, parents and teachers must have opportunities to work together to talk about their goals. The manifesto recommends programs like Academic Parent-Teacher Teams and Family Engagement Partnerships, which create opportunities for parents and teachers to work together in classroom meetings or home visits.

Whatever methods teachers employ, the key idea is that by connecting with parents on a positive, empathetic, human level goes a long way in establishing trust. Make an effort to begin relationships at the start of the school year with openness, and it’s likely you’ll have strong partnerships throughout the year.

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