From the Washington Post to Education Week, the topic of parent engagement has been making headlines. Some states are now including parent engagement as a component of evaluation for both teachers and curriculums. Grants specifically for engagement programs are increasing, but with more specific strategy requirements.
As Patricia A. Spradley, one of Education Week’s 2015 Leaders to Learn From, says, “’strategic and intentional programs,’ developed using student data and research, now are having a much greater impact on student learning”(Reid, 2015). So how do you, the educator, begin to foster relationships with families to meet the increased desire for engagement?
Take your time
Relationships don’t develop after the first drop off, especially not lasting ones. Take your time and be committed to the process. Be available, but in a way that works for both you and the parents. Quick conversations, emails, and other short forms of communication can go a long way in developing trusting relationships. Just be yourself and only share within your personal boundaries.
Be proactive with information
Being forthcoming with information helps build trust and if parents know they can help children understand experiences and lessons. If you have information to share that is of a sensitive nature keep a few things in mind:
- Begin with assurances that everything is okay.
- If you don’t know how a parent will react, don’t bring it up in front of the child.
- Talk to the parent out of earshot of other parents.
- Make arrangements for a follow-up conversation if needed
Try to see it from the parent’s perspective
Parents want to know information that pertains to their child and what they can do as parents. Don’t use jargon and give general information about the class or age group. Ask yourself these questions to help see it from the parent’s perspective:
- How does this issue directly affect the parent?
- What do you want the parent to do?
- Are you truly listening to the parent’s point of view?
Use active listening and respectful communication to avoid conflict.
Regardless of whether parent engagement is required by your program, it is important because educators and parents have a lot to offer each other and working together creates the best environment for children to learn in.
For more tips, tools, and scenarios to help improve your parent engagement skills check out Parent-Friendly Early Learning and watch for the updated version, Parent Engagement in Early Learning: Strategies for Working with Families, coming in February for even more information on working with modern families and technology for improved parent engagement.