It’s no secret that a child’s education can be greatly enhanced when there is a strong relationship between the teacher and parents or caregivers. In fact, a growing body of research has shown that when teachers and parents work together as partners, children tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, and stay in school longer. Studies have also confirmed that strong parent-teacher partnerships foster higher educational aspirations and give rise to more motivated students (Barton, 2003).
Outside of the research world, many educators themselves have favorable perspectives in regard to parental involvement. In a recent Twitter poll, for instance, more than 97 percent of educators in the Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) community believed the establishment of healthy communication between parents and teachers was “extremely important” to student achievement.
The reason for this is simple: parent involvement is worth the effort. When strong relationships are formed and fostered, everyone in the school benefits — not only the child, but also the parents and teachers (Eldridge, 2001). For TpT Teacher-Author Keri Brown, having a strong relationship with parents opens up the opportunity for her to have honest and candid conversations with them about their child’s learning and development. “If the relationship isn’t the most positive, parents don’t want to hear anything that I have to say about their child,” says Keri. “But if the relationship has always been positive, parents will be open to doing and trying out what I’ve suggested to help their child.” In terms of the benefits for students, TpT Teacher-Author Christine from Autism Classroom Resources believes that healthy parent-teacher relationships result in a more cohesive approach to students’ education. “For the student, a strong relationship between the home and the school means a stronger education, given that the people who work with him and see him daily are on the same page, collaborating for better solutions to solve any learning or behavior issues that arise.”
While much has been made of the need for teachers to foster healthy relationships with the parents of their students, you may be thinking that it’s easier said than done. When school days are filled with grading assignments, lesson planning, and managing a classroom, it can be a challenge to prioritize reaching out and forming connections with parents and caregivers. On top of all that, there are no hard and fast rules for how to effectively communicate with parents. When’s the right time to talk and when isn’t it? What should information parents know and what’s too in the weeds? To help, the TpT research and editorial staff drew on the expertise of our community and put together some strategies for building and maintaining parent-teacher relationships. This piece will guide teachers on how to foster positive partnerships with parents, how they can measure the success of their efforts, and how school administrators can provide their support.
Fostering positive relationships with parents and caregivers
A good parent-teacher relationship is much more than just giving a status report about a child’s academic performance or behavior in class. Ideally, it’s a partnership that provides a two-way flow of information about a child’s achievements and social-emotional development both in the classroom and at home. The five tips we’ve outlined below can help educators start their relationship-building efforts with parents on the right foot.
1. Involve parents in classroom activities.
Many parents want to help teachers out, but don’t know how — especially when their children are older. Teachers should let families or caregivers know how they can be helpful and can ask for their assistance with specific activities. For example, if a parent has skills or knowledge that connects to your curriculum, ask she or he to come in and speak to it. The more involved parents are in what goes on in the classroom, the more likely they are to understand the teacher’s goals and practices.
| Sample Action: Open your door to parents.
At the beginning of the year, make it clear to parents that you want to partner with them and encourage them to participate. Invite them to share input, give them information to help them form opinions, and listen to their feedback.
TpT Teacher-Author Tip
“Invite parents to the school. If you’re not comfortable with asking them to help to do something in the classroom, lunch is a great place to start. Parents will be able to sit with their child, but they also will be able to chat with you briefly without the idea of having to talk about academics or behavior for a change.”— Keri Brown
2. Establish a regular system of communication.
Open, clear, and timely communication between parents and teachers is the key to building a positive relationship. Frequent, two-way communication allows parents to stay apprised of what and how their child is learning, and allows parents to give teachers updates on the child’s academic and social-emotional development. As TpT Teacher-Author Kristin from School And The City notes: “Consistency allows parents to know what to expect. That way, they never feel disconnected.”
| Sample Action: Provide weekly updates about what’s going on in the classroom.
Let parents know what’s happening in the classroom — that is, what students are learning, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re excited about, and any growth that’s occurring. Teachers can also suggest things that parents might ask their child about: “Ask them to tell you about what they learned last week about fractions,” or “Ask them to read you the essay they wrote for social studies.”
TpT Teacher-Author Tip
“Whether it’s a weekly email with activities or things to follow up for during the week or a newsletter sent home, parents appreciate knowing what is going on in the classroom. If you work with students with special needs, more regular communication may be needed. You can streamline this process through a daily checkoff note with a brief comment about the day that you sign off. Although it may seem like some parents never look at these notes, the majority of them will find them helpful and appreciate the time it takes.”— Christine from Autism Classroom Resources
3. Keep all communications simple and to the point.
As TpT Teacher-Author Jackie from The Template Teacher points out, “Parents are extremely busy and don’t have time to look through a bunch of papers.” Before reaching out to parents, be sure to organize your thoughts, and review written messages. She advises teachers to keep it short and sweet: “Most communications I send to parents are information and updates that are bulleted and concise.”
| Sample Action: Try to avoid teacher-speak.
When communicating with family members, it’s important to create an environment in which parents can feel free to share information, ask questions, and make recommendations — and that all starts with making the conversation about their child’s academic progress accessible to them. Be careful not to make assumptions about a family member’s level of knowledge, understanding, or interest. Take the time to help them learn about the education system if they’re not familiar with it or to understand what you’re doing and why in terms of instructional decisions.
TpT Teacher-Author Tip
“Don’t make parents feel inferior or helpless by throwing around vocabulary used around school. Acronyms are a great example of this, and even language like ‘fluency’ and ‘formative assessment’ are often meaningless to parents. Make it parent-friendly and use examples and charts to illustrate your points.”— Kady from Teacher Trap
4. Inform parents of the good — and do it often.
Positivity goes a long way toward building productive relationships with families and to. As TpT Teacher-Author Michaela of Especially Education explains, “Positive notes and phone calls let the parents know you are on their child’s team — their biggest cheerleader in the classroom.” In every conversation you have with a parent (even when discussing a concern or negative situation), be sure to share something positive about their child to show that you genuinely care.
| Sample Action: Make a positive phone call or send a positive note home.
While this can seem daunting, especially with a large class, demonstrating care for a student through a positive note or phone call home doesn’t have to be complicated. Paper templates can make this task fast and practical. And positive comments can be as simple as “Maya was an excellent problem-solver during math today” to “Jamal was very helpful during clean-up.”
TpT Teacher-Author Tip
“Call home or send notes home with positive comments at the start of the year. The earlier, the better! This way parents know that you care about their child and LIKE their child. A parent who knows you are on their child’s side will be much more willing to listen and work with you because they know that you care about their child.”— Maribel from Learning in Wonderland
5. Provide ways that parents can support their child at home.
The more teachers encourage parents in their roles as the primary educators and role models, the more the child will benefit (and the more fruitful classroom learning will become). To help, teachers can offer suggestions for carrying over concepts from the classroom to the home: “You can help your child with her science homework by asking her to explain how she got an answer,” or “As you’re reading stories at night, ask your child to predict what will happen next to help strengthen his reading comprehension.” In addition, teachers can suggest books to be read at home, provide resources to help with studying, and recommend activities that can be done over the weekend.
TpT Teacher-Author Tip
“Make sure your communication is valuable. For example, if you are giving parents a heads up about a test, make sure to provide them with links to resources they can use. Anticipate their questions and provide thorough answers.”— Kristin from School And The City
Gauging the success of relationship-building efforts
Of the many experts in the TpT community that we talked to, one thing on this point was certain: success looks different across every parent-teacher relationship. They did provide some examples of what success might look like in its various forms. “Some parents are easier to get along with so success could mean having them sign the agenda each night,” says Keri Brown. “For others, it could be getting them to answer the phone each time you call.” When it comes to collecting feedback, Kady from Teacher Trap takes to a survey to help measure success. “My goal is for parents to feel that I am their child’s biggest champion and that they feel safe contacting me about any concern,” she explains. “I send out a survey around the middle of the year to check on how the parent is feeling things are going. Hearing that positive feedback lets me know that I am on the right track.”
What administrators can do to help
Though the relationship between administrators and parents is more distant than the relationship between teacher and parents, administrators who embrace the opportunity to support teachers in these efforts (and build relationships themselves) will find it to be a worthwhile investment. There are plenty of actions that administrators can take today to foster healthy, productive relationships between the school and parents. For a few real-life examples, we turned to some of our Teacher-Authors and asked them to tell us how their administrators have supported parent-teacher relationship building in the past. Maribel from Learning in Wonderland told us that her administrator helps out with making positive phone calls home. “We have a system at our school where if you fill out a positive referral, the child gets to go to the office and the principal calls home! Parents are thrilled with these phone calls and they are so meaningful for the kids!” For Kady of Teacher Trap, her administrator gives teachers at their school the time and the tools to facilitate these relationships. “My administrators are passionate about offering excellent ‘customer service’ and making sure parents felt welcomed, respected, and valued. We were given a full workday to hold parent conferences, allowing for longer, more relaxed meetings. We were also given the freedom to use any type of communication platform (such as Facebook Group, Seesaw, Class Dojo, Remind App, etc.).”
Both parents and teachers play a vital role in influencing students. Though it may seem challenging to find the time, energy, or skills to build trusting relationships with your student’s parents or caregivers, it is well worth the effort.
Here are a few resources to help these relationships flourish:
- B2S: Rules, parent letter (Eng & Spanish), student inventory, and MORE!
- Character Education Parent Letters Bundle
- Daily Parent Communication Logs
- Positive Communication Notes / Parent Communication Notes
- Parent Communication and Positive Notes Home
- Parent Communication Notes for Elementary Special Education: Editable Included
- Reading Level Guide: Parent’s Handbook for Leveled Books English & Spanish BUNDLE
- Summary [Parent Helpers]
Further Reading List
Want to dive deeper into this topic? Here’s a curated reading list of the sources that we cited and referred to while writing this piece.
- Aguilar, E. (2011) “20 Tips for Developing Positive Relationships With Parents.” Edutopia.
- Barton, P. E. (2003). Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress. Princeton, NJ: Policy Information Report, Educational Testing Service.
- Eldridge, D. (2001). Parent involvement: it’s worth the effort. Young Children, 56 (4), 65-9.
- Loughran, S. B. (2008). “The Importance Of Teacher/Parent Partnerships: Preparing Pre-Service And In-Service Teachers.” Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 5(8).
- Stoltzfus, K. (2017). “Improving Parent-Teacher Relationships Can Help Students Succeed, Study Finds.” EdWeek.
- Sheridan, S. M. (2018). “Establishing Healthy Parent-Teacher Relationships for Early Learning Success.” Early Learning Network.