My new school year's resolution is to do better with reaching out to parents, especially ones who distrust the school system.
Many of my parents are easy to reach, communicate regularly by note or telephone, and come in for conferences when needed. But every year I have a handful parents who avoid my calls like I'm trying to collect the cable bill.
Last year I had a student who struggled academically all year long. Requests for parent conferences went unanswered. Phone calls were hit or miss. Toward the end of the year we mailed a "in danger of retention" letter and shortly after that, the father popped in unannounced for a conference.
I'm the type of teacher who always takes pop ins. This one coincided with my lunch and I asked the dad if he minded me eating a grilled cheese while we chatted (he didn't).
We had a fantastic conversation about ways he could help his son, I gave him resources to pursue and by the end of the meeting, a visible wave of relief had washed over his face. He apologized for not coming in sooner and told me I was "way cooler" than he expected (thanks?!). Clearly, this man no longer found me intimidating (but talking to someone with sandwich crumbs on her blouse has that effect).
The best part of the story is all the things we talked about in the conference stuck in a way things we discussed by phone during the year hadn't. I saw a measurable improvement in my student during final months of school and I couldn't help thinking if I had just gotten his family to trust me at the beginning, how much more we could have accomplished.
I guess teaching means starting over every year to earn the trust of 30 brand new families. Sure, life would be easy if I could just wave a parent partnership wand and create instant connections. But while I'm waiting for one of those snazzy devices to be developed, I'll keep looking for new ways to break the ice and build a rapport with parents who don't automatically assume I have their kid's best interests at heart.
Here's one small step (of many) I'm taking in that direction:
I found this idea on Pinterest. I plan to hand out door prizes the first day of school. I often see several parents on the first day who don't come back during the school year.
This September, every parent who pops in on the first day will receive a bag of microwave popcorn with this message attached: "Thank you for popping in! Please pop in again!" I'm also passing out fridge magnets with my name and contact information (which I got from Vistaprint).
I designed the popcorn bag stickers to fit the Avery 2x4" shipping labels, and you can download the file for FREE at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
What's one small thing you do build trust and rapport with parents?
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