Building constructive relationships with parents is essential when it comes to their child’s schooling. When we encounter challenging issues such as how to address student bullying, disruptive behaviour - or even a safeguarding matter, then having a constructive relationship (as a school) with parents is critical.
Yet despite this, building a strong school relationship with parents is no easy task, and as with any relationship - building one, becomes more a matter of trust, than anything else. Ultimately, do parents trust you, as a school.
There is a saying when it comes to trust:
So how do we build trust at school? Let’s start by breaking down the three ingredients of trust.
The first one is, authenticity, and as humans we are really good as sussing out whether we think someone else is being authentic - or if they’re deceiving us. Call it a gut feeling, or intuition - but it’s our built in ‘red-flag’ system, for when we need to be cautious about who we trust.
As a school, building authenticity takes time - but it starts with integrity. Lead by example, remember, why it is you decided to go into education in the first place. Was it because you wanted to give other children great opportunities? Perhaps you believe there is nothing more important in life than a good education? With all the politics and stresses of school-life, it can be easy to lose sight of this.
So whatever your motivation, reflecting back on this from time to time is a great way to refocus on your authentic self, as an educator and as a school-leader.
One of the most common barriers to building parent trust is a perceived lack of empathy. It’s no surprise, as teachers, principals, administrative staff and school leaders we are all so busy with so many demands on our time, it’s easy to lose the time that building real empathy requires.
But this puts us in a vicious cycle, because without developing empathy - it makes everything harder. We end up having less and less time for empathy, spending more time on responding to issues, rather than proactively getting in front of them.
Let’s recognise for example, the families’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledge their struggles with distance learning and genuinely invite families to share how they are doing. In return, you can be frank about your own experiences - building both empathy and trust.
While building trust is ensuring an outcome of attainable results, the matter of confidence in the quality of understanding and reasoning also has a part to play. Due to the idea of trust being responsive, in other words (you receive the expected recognition or equal result), it is important to identity the objective of confidence within the transfer of this trust between the school and parents.
To differentiate this, we can look at confidence, as a form of less reciprocal exchanges of communication, where the school builds sincerity without a need for something in return. In order to solidify and maintain forms of trust, there also needs to be confident within the group or organisation that information will be provided regardless of inconveniences.
Though it can be difficult at times, even to smallest gesture of confidence, can eliminate fears of uncertainty for parents, as well as encourage future communication and a foundation for strong, sincere parent/teacher relationship.
The last component of building trust is reasoning. If someone’s logic or reasoning is difficult to follow, it’s quite often difficult to trust them (politicians are often common examples of this). When we can’t follow someone’s reasoning, out gut tells us something is off - and this inhibits the development of trust.
Yet more often or not, it’s not so much the reasoning itself which is the problem - but the way in which is communicated.
It’s easy to address this by making a conscious effort - start with your point in a crisp half-sentence, and then where possible - backup your claims. If you’re trying to encourage parents to read with their children at home, say it straight away in the first sentence - and then back it up, with why it’s important.
Parent trust is undoubtedly a necessary investment, although building trust with parents takes time - by staying authentic, showing parents you care and keeping your reasoning clear - you will be able to build a strong and enduring foundation for parent-school relationships in the years to come.