Five Strategies To Use to Connect With Parents

As educators, we spend a lot of time with other people. That time can be ongoing, longer relationships or brief, specific encounters. You can categorize mosts of your interactions, at school as well as in the rest of your life, into two columns: transactional encounters and transformational relationships.

When we have transactional encounters, they don’t necessarily have to be bad. They are defined as a limited interaction for a short period of time and may or not be repeated. When you’re out to eat and get a chicken sandwich, you are having a transactional encounter with the person who takes your order. It can be a good one (when it’s their pleasure to see you) or a not-so-good one (when you’re in the drive-thru and they make you park your car because you had a salad). When you go to get your drivers’ license renewed, it’s a transactional encounter. You are unlikely to see that meeting turn into a long-term relationship.

Transformational relationships as the name suggests are quite the opposite. They are beyond an encounter and are instead a chapter in a longer, ongoing book. Transactional encounters are about the transaction; transformational relationships are about the relationship, the people, and how they change individually and together over time.

That takes us to the parents of our students. The time we have together with them is very limited. The nature of our interactions? Unfortunately, they can tend to be matters that are transactional in nature. We spend time with parents when they have an issue or concern, when they are completing required paperwork, and when they are delivering and/or retrieving their children.

What if we worked more intentionally to extend our school family to our parents? What if we created an environment in which those encounters became less transactional because we’d spent time getting to know each other in advance? We also should never forget– the right kind of attitude can make a transformational relationship out of a transactional encounter. Think about your favorite restaurant, coffee shop, or office you go to. Chances are that you feel the way you do about that place at least in part by how you’re treated, by how someone there sees you as a relationship waiting to be developed instead of transaction that has to be completed.

It can be a positive thing for an administrator to know a lot of the parents at the school from previous experience and longterm relationships. That fast-forwards the matter of trust and makes for better relationships and partnerships.

It can’t stop with a widely-connected administrator, however. The relationship of the parent to the school is also defined by their relationships with teachers, with office staff, with bus drivers. If we work at it, transactional encounters don’t have to be only that. Putting your child on the bus can be transactional, but with the right bus driver it can be a relationship that defines a positive perception of everything about the school.

How do we do it? Listed below in the infographic are five ways to connect school and home. There are probably five million things you can do to develop these connections. (We stopped at just five). These ideas are ways to make deeper connections with parents without the need of extensive time. Connections lead to relationships, which lead to trust, which open doors for true partnerships between school and home, between teacher and parent, between people in a community working together for the well-being of individuals and the greater good for all.

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How To Partner With Parents For Success

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors.”

Richard Rothstein, 2010, How To Fix Our Schools

Working to lead students to success without developing a partnership with their parents is like driving a car with a flat tire. Cross country in the rain. Without windshield wipers.

You get it. Research tells us that the influence of parents, or others raising a child in place of parents, is among the most impactful in determining student achievement. We know that a particular type of parental involvement is very effective in leading to student achievement, but at schools we typically don’t spend much time to foster that behavior. John Hattie’s meta-analyses show a high effect size for parental involvement* (.58). There are other things that are prominent at schools everywhere that don’t have the same research basis, but we do them anyway. For example, homework (.29 effect size); 1:1 technology (.16) and mentoring (.12). (Remember that anything below a .40 effect size is not considered to be successful in advancing student achievement.)

So, it’s possible that we do things that may not yield a lot for our efforts while missing out on something that could make a great difference. Why? We know that we tend to do things the way they’ve always been done. Even when we make an effort to “increase parental involvement,” we often spend time on things that don’t necessarily produce a high yield.

Let’s look at Hattie’s study of different types of parental involvement (2018) and their effect on student achievement.

Supervising Child's Homework                        0.19
Parent Participation in School Activities 0.14
Communication with School and Teachers 0.14
Parent Listening to Child Reading 0.51
*High Expectations for Student Achievement 0.58

(and verbalizing these to the child)

According to Hattie, more than homework, more than 1:1, more than mentoring, more than getting parents to come to school events, more than communication between teachers and parents, what really makes the biggest difference is when parents establish and communicate high expectations for student achievement with their child.

It would seem to reason that we the school would work really hard to encourage and influence parents in communicating these high expectations. Yet, when I talk about school separately to parents and teachers/administrators, there is often frustration on each’s part with the other. Rather than dissect those arguments, perhaps we the school would benefit in our mission by seeking more positive relationships with parents. If we could become partners with parents(and often we do!), we can more intentionally focus on a tidal shift of educational expectations among the families of our school. To become partners, we first have to have a relationship, which follows making connections with each other. Those relationships lead to trust, and with trust influence, particularly if we never grow tired of working to earn that trust.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. Relationships take time; partnerships take time, trust, and intentional focus. As much effort as it may take, the benefits of doing so are well worth the effort.

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Influencing Others Through Relationships

One of the most common leadership mistakes is thinking you’ll get maximum performance from others without first building relationships with them. As school leaders, our success is measured not only by our own actions but even more so by the work of those we lead. The same is true of our teachers and their students.

What is it that relationships do? They give you access to the key to leadership: influence.

If you want to lead other people as a teacher leading his class or a principal leading her school, you want to become a powerful influencer. The reason being, you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. Using your authority, you can make things uncomfortable for others in their decisions, but going along with you is still a choice for them.

So why do people do what they do? Here are three things that influence our choices: 1) beliefs; 2) experience; and 3) environment.

Whether we’re thinking of students or adults, most of the choices that are made each day in your building are filtered through each person’s beliefs, previous experiences, and perception of the environment.

The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.

~Ken Blanchard

So, as leader (or teacher), you can run yourself ragged spending all of your time hyper-focused on the choices (also known as behavior) of those you supervise and serve. Where our time would be more wisely invested would be in developing relationships instead of directing actions. Some actions, obviously, require immediate attention or redirection, but until the student (or teacher) changes beliefs, gains new experiences, or is presented with a changed environment, their choices will most likely remain as they are.

Instead of making them do, influence them so they’ll want to do.

Back to influence. Think about the people in your life who influence you. What is true about them? Most likely, you’ve developed some sort of relationship that has led to trust. When we trust someone, we are willing to believe them, to be influenced by them.

Make connections and build relationships. We connect with others, continue our conversation, and in time, the conversation leads to a relationship. Relationships, in turn, lead to trust.

Student behavior can be influenced through relationships more effectively than it can be controlled by rules.

If we know the power of influential relationships, why does it remain the road less traveled? Why do we rush to an insistence on other people’s behaviors when we can influence them for good through relationships?

Relationships take time, energy, and a lot of upkeep. But then again, mandating behaviors from students or adults takes a lot of the same. It’s something to consider though: would your time and energy be spent more effectively influencing those you’ve build trust with or insisting behavior from those you haven’t?

© 2020. Mark Wilson.

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Positive Relationships: Path to Success in Your School

Nearly everyone talks about the importance of relationships at a school. So many conversations work around into the comment, “it’s all about relationships.”

For the principal or assistant principal to work well with the faculty and staff? It’s all about relationships. The teacher and her students? Also, all about relationships. Partnership between the school and parents? Again, relationships.

So, you know that they matter, but how do you promote their importance to your people? Even better, how do you help someone develop great relationships when they don’t come so easy for them?

” I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together, we can do great things.”

Mother Teresa

Chances are if you’re a school administrator, the people who hired you noted your natural knack for building relationships. As the leader, you want your faculty and staff to also be great at relationships. Here’s a challenge: what comes naturally to you can be hard for you to teach to others.

Here’s a way you can help others in your school develop the kind of relationships that inspire everyone to do their best:

1.) Talk about relationships. See the graphic above. It’s important to ask your faculty about the fundamental nature of their relationships with students and with each other. The growth begins with a conversation.

2) Encourage reflection. Open the conversation about relationships, then ask your faculty and staff to reflect on their relationships. What are the products of their relationships? What kind of relationships do they have with students who do well in school? And, what kind of relationships do they have with those who don’t do well?

3) Prioritize ongoing growth. If you think that relationships are important, you can bring attention to reflection and growth in relationships. Celebrate those who foster good relationships. Create time for your teachers to recognize their colleagues who excel in relationship-building.

As the principal or assistant principal, if you want your teachers and students to be successful, you should be interested in their behavior and in the quality of their relationships. What people do and how they interact with each other is the definition of your climate and the strongest indicators of your culture. Like anything, your intentional focus in these areas is your best bet to get what you’re looking for, and in building a school where people are successful and enjoy the experience.

© 2020. Dr. Mark D. Wilson

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