How might we build empathy between parents and teachers so each side better understands the other’s needs?

To understand each other better, the teacher should establish not more than two or three concerns or issues about the child.

Photo of Rupinder Sahni
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Parental involvement at school can help build positive interactions between parents and kids, as well as parents and teachers. Parents will have a better idea of what their child's day is like, which can improve family communication. Younger children are often excited to see their parents in a volunteer role, and it may help to give them a positive outlook on school. It can also build and improve the relationships between parents and teachers. The teacher can get a better understanding of individual family dynamics, cultural background and challenges a family faces as well as their strengths. Parents may develop a better understanding of the teacher's expectations and the challenging dynamics that teacher may face in class. Getting to know each other can clear up such frustrations as the way a teacher handles discipline or why a parent is unhappy with the amount of homework being assigned to her child.

Before the Conference

Send a personal letter to each parent to confirm the day, time, and place of the conference. Inform parents ahead of time about the purpose of the conference. Gather file folders or portfolios of each student's work. Be sure your schedule is coordinated with other teachers in the school. Many parents will have more than one child in school and need sufficient time with each teacher.

If necessary, make arrangements for an interpreter for non-English-speaking parents. Review notes on each student's behavior, academic progress, and interactions with peers. Establish no more than two or three concerns or issues. More than that will discourage most parents. Clarify ahead of time who, exactly, will be attending each conference. Is it the child's biological parents, a relative, a guardian, a grandparent, a foster parent, or who? Check and double-check names.

Invite parents to bring a list of questions, issues, or concerns. Have sample textbooks readily available. Establish a waiting area outside your classroom. For reasons of confidentiality, you only want to meet with one set of parents at a time.

Don't conduct a parent-teacher conference from behind your desk. A teacher's desk is sometimes referred to as “power furniture,” and it tends to inhibit conversation and makes many parents uncomfortable (perhaps a throwback to their days as a student). Instead, conduct your conferences at a table. Don't sit across from parents; instead, sit on the same side of the table as your guests. You will discover heightened levels of conversation and “comfortableness” on the part of parents this way.

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Rupinder - I think the idea I currently have in the selection process would be a great way to carry on what you have here. With Guideposts to Success we can build relationships and empathy, and your ideas could be a great addition. If you'd be willing, I'd appreciate if you would evaluate and comment on the idea during the selection process. Thanks!