Real Relationships: Are They Key To Parent Engagement?

With all of Lisa Thompson‘s announcements over the Break, edu-Twitter has been a very vocal space. While I’ve read more tweets than I’ve responded to, I have been incredibly interested to see what people are thinking, what questions they have, and what they infer the impact of these announcements might be. One tweet yesterday caught my eye, but for a different reason. I follow WithEqualStep because I’m very passionate about parent engagement, and I love how she often makes me think differently. While I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, we’ve talked a few times, and she certainly asks some wonderful questions. After Lisa Thompson’s announcement about cell phones, WithEqualStep replied to a tweet with this comment.

WithEqualStep‘s tweet generated some replies, but it also got me thinking, especially after reading Tara Stephen‘s comment.

Like Tara, I’ve seen a lot of these flyers too, and I’ve run some different technology workshops in the past, for both parents and teachers. After school and evening workshops, while well-intentioned, often having varying degrees of success. I started to wonder, does the problem rest in the fact that just like with kids, we need relationships with parents before successful workshops can happen?

In the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with an amazing teaching partner, Paula. She’s taught me many things, and certainly shares my passion for parent engagement. Paula approaches parents differently than I ever did before, and by watching her and learning from her, I think that I’ve gained an even better connection with parents. She really talks to parents, and she really listens to them. In the past, I’ve always tried to have quick drop-off times, but this year especially, we’ve slowed down this morning drop-off routine.

  • Many parents bring their children inside.
  • They give that extra hug and say that extra goodbye.
  • They also chat with us. This is how we find out more about them, about their families, and about what matters to them. And I think that this is also how we build a stronger bond with parents, as it’s not about us versus them, but us working together. 

Yes, this new routine has made me learn how to be a lot more patient. I was always accustomed to drop-off at 9:05, attendance at 9:10, and leave for the forest at 9:15. Now the timing is a little more fluid, and often we don’t leave for the forest until almost 9:30. Sometimes a late drop-off also includes a long parent chat, but that chat normally tells us more about the child. Why are they late? How might the child be feeling today? And this helps as we then plan ahead for the day. Embracing the -ish matters, and connecting deeply with parents as well as students, also matters.

For you see, I think about those parent technology nights of the past, and how many times it was a case of a teacher telling parents what to do. (And don’t get me wrong, as I was often that teacher.)

  • Teachers shared the resources.
  • Teachers defined the best practices.
  • Teachers did most of the talking.
  • Teachers were seen as the knowledgeable ones.

Maybe, with stronger parent-teacher connections, these nights begin as conversations. Parents feel better about sharing their thinking and asking those difficult questions, as they know that they’re not going to be judged. And teachers feel better about admitting their challenges, as well as some possible solutions to them … but also asking what others might suggestHow does this happen? I think with relationships first. What do you think? How do we build these real relationships? This is just the start of some unsettling times in Ontario education. Looking ahead, I can’t help but wonder about the value of these strong connections for kids, for parents, and for educators. 


4 thoughts on “Real Relationships: Are They Key To Parent Engagement?

  1. Aviva:
    Can’t say I disagree with anything here. So, thank you!!
    We often hear about ‘hard to reach’ parents but maybe it’s the schools that are hard to reach. When we offer opportunities for families to come to the school – and they don’t – we need to ask some important questions:
    1. Who decided they needed to know this – them or us? Are we sharing or telling?
    2. How do we know families will find this meaningful and relevant?
    3. What challenges to attending do our families face? Time? Place? Bad experiences? Family obligations? Language?
    4. Can we do anything to ameliorate these challenges?
    5. Have we asked our families what they would like to learn? The best method for learning it?
    6. In the past, have we asked them to do for us more than we’ve looked for ways to do for them?
    Schools often have great ideas for helping their families. Building relationships with them will help determine how to do this work TOGETHER.

    • Thanks for your comment here, Nancy! I love the questions that you added. Such important ones to consider, and a good idea to dig deeper if things are not working. Finding out the answers to these questions may be what’s needed to make a difference!


  2. I am glad an impromptu conversation on Twitter led to your post, Aviva. Thanks for your honesty and sharing how some changes in the morning routine made a difference. I am sure it served well in gaining insights, trust and understanding. I think parents understand the time constraints on teachers, but I am sure the extra time for relationship building will reduce assumptions and improve communications both ways!
    I appreciate your positive attitude about the possibilities of stronger parent-teacher connections!

    • Thanks for the comment, Sheila! I’m so glad that I caught this Twitter conversation. While I know that our parents appreciate the time constraints on teachers, there is something wonderful about making these real connections with parents. I think these morning conversations have given me a much better understanding of parents and families, and a better bond all around. Years ago, this is a change that I never thought I’d make, but I appreciate Paula for pushing me to think differently.


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