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November 1, 2018
Vol. 60
No. 11

We Owe Parents Our Trust

    Although school rules and regulations can sometime get in the way, parents require open communication from teachers to create a healthy relationship.

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    Classroom Management
      When I was growing up, there was no better gift than putting a smile on my mom's face. In 1st grade, I'd try to summon that smile by performing well on weekly spelling tests. But on one particular test, I misspelled two words. When my mom's silver hooptie pulled up, I swallowed my tears and hung my head low. I gave her my test with the two red X marks. To my surprise, she still smiled.
      "This is great, Patrick!" she said. "We'll work on these two words for next time, but you did good, son." My mother's energy was contagious. Her enthusiasm told me that I didn't have to be perfect. If I worked my hardest, I could make her proud.
      I don't need to tell you that parents and guardians are crucial for children's success in school. They are often the most idolized figures in our students' lives. When our students work their hardest, there's a good chance they're doing it for a parent's smile. That's why it's especially important that we as teachers take time to engage and strengthen our own relationships with parents.
      Our job is to build a bridge between school and home. When parents drop their children off at the school door, it does not mean that they no longer matter. We are not bouncers at an exclusive club. Instead, we should be more like the ushers in church, welcoming the community into the building and helping them find their way.
      My "a-ha" moment happened during my second year of teaching, with one of my 1st grade students—or, more specifically, her mom. I found myself frustrated that Olivia's mom, whom I had never met in person, constantly sent her to school late. When Olivia would strut through the door nearly two hours after the first bell, I accused her and her family of not truly valuing her education. "How can you take advantage of your education if you're not here in person?" I asked her.
      Instead of creating a plan with her mom to fix her schedule, I let my judgment and my workload prevent me from taking action. The tardiness continued. A few days later, when Olivia's mother walked her upstairs to our class, I talked to her for the first time. She apologized for Olivia's inconsistent attendance and informed me that they had moved across the city and were having trouble adjusting their schedule to the longer commute on public transportation.
      This experience made me realize that struggles happen to all of us. Although school rules and regulations can sometime get in the way, we owe parents our empathy and trust. Olivia's situation was a reminder that parents are doing the very best they can and want their children to achieve academically and socially, even if it might not always appear that way.
      To build and sustain trust in parent–teacher relationships, be proactive. If parents go to a school leader angry about our teaching, it's usually because our communication with them wasn't clear enough. The beginning of the year is crucial for setting the tone. Send letters home, make regular phone calls, show up for students' extracurricular activities, and catch parents during pick-up to create small moments of interaction. I call every parent in the first week to set up that initial relationship and get to know the student's family.
      Throughout the year, continue to reach out by making homework relational. Instead of sending home worksheets for independent practice, try parent interviews or conversation starters. Parents have a lot of experience and wisdom. In a unit about perseverance, I had students ask their parents, "What advice do you have for me when I come up against obstacles in school or in life?" Allowing your class content to serve as a medium for relationship-building sustains those relationships over the course of the year.
      After our initial meeting, Olivia's mom and I began regular conversations, and Olivia's attendance drastically improved. When Olivia was running late, her mom texted to let me know their estimated time of arrival. On other days, her mom would pop her head through the door and whisper, "I got her here on time." When parents and teachers work together, we set our students up for collective success.

      Patrick L. Harris II is the upper primary social studies teacher at Bishop Walker School for Boys in Washington, D.C.

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