Building Trust with Parents

By Charley Cass posted 02-21-2017 13:14

I commented to a colleague this weekend that I could write a best seller based on Friday's events  alone.  It was surely one of those days.  Every situation was an indication of everything that's is wrong with schools and society.  It took quite a while to digest and reflect upon how the wheels fall off and why can't these bad days being prevented.  The truth is it's like being a fireman.  Sometimes there are boring days and sometimes you work 14 hours without taking your gear off.  I try not to complain and keep on moving.  I once heard someone say that we shouldn't pray for a smaller load, we should pray for a stronger back.  This is definitely true in education.

The theme for that Friday seemed to be the parents I was working with.  I feel I have great parents and families in my school but sometimes there will be conflict and disagreement.  In my post 5 Simple Truths, I tried to give parents a tool kit to help deal with school issues and help them understand what educators are going through when it comes to spending the day with our kids.  The first of the five truths was trust.  I asked parents to trust us knowing full well that there are external factors that influence trust of schools and their principals.

Their experiences in school might be a good start.  If our parents had adverse relationships with school when they were students then we might have some troubles.  I have a lot of parents and families that come from poverty and still struggle after generations of being poor.  For these parents I tell them up front that I am a product of generational poverty.  This eases a lot of tension especially if I tell them a story they can relate to.  Poverty stricken families see education as abstract and not a reality.  This can damage the establishing of a trust relationship with them if they do not see education as a way to mobilize out of poverty.  Sure, I have a handful of parents in poverty that do see schooling as a way out but the general rule is that most do not.

What if the parents you are dealing with dropped out of school and took an alternative route to become job ready?  Their failure can often times be unknowingly transmitted to their children.  Not always by what they say but usually how they interact with school personnel.  They are the ones that often feel anxiety towards participating in school conferences or the PTO.  They have a fear that those previous failures will rear their ugly heads and they may be an embarrassment to their children.

High achieving or high expectation parents can also be maladjusted in the trust department.  And you thought this was only about the "bad" parents.  In my experience these are the parents that push too hard and have the most unrealistic expectations.  Typically these are my parents that feel that the other kids are out to get their kid.  They most frequently misuse the term "bully" and be the first to tell you that a teacher just isn't teaching their kid.  Your rules are stupid to them and its an embarrassment if they suffer a consequence like everyone else.  These people are not bad people, but they desperately protect an imagined status level to the point of pointless arguments.

The reality is that the parents we work with are as different as the students we teach.  I feel that I enjoy a decent level of satisfaction from my parents.  That's not to say that I haven't been put on blast or faced some strong challenges, but I keep things as simple as I can.

Here are my simple rules that help build not only trust but predictable exchanges with families.

  • The growth of our student is the absolute highest priority for both of us.
  • Work to the best of your ability to find all the facts about a situation.
  • Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Give parents input/ownership in school decision making.
  • Smile (and mean it)
Just like 5 Simple Truths, this is my professional experience though I'm sure there is research on these suggestions.  I enjoy meeting and talking with parents.  That might come from years of experience in waiting tables and customer service jobs.  I know that I want to reach a kid, I must also reach their parents.  They might not be on your team yet but they can be if you take the time to include them.