Building Strong Relationships with Parents

Back-to-school season is so close we can almost smell the newly sharpened pencils. The new school year promises a fresh start, full of possibility and purpose for students, parents, and teachers. Often, it’s a time to renew our goals or commit to new ones. Here a Cannon County teacher and 2014-15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist shares why collaborating with parents is her resolution for the coming school year.

Shannon Streett, a 2014-15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist, teaches English in Cannon County. By Shannon Streett, Middle School Language Arts teachers, Cannon County

How many of you, in the midst of vacationing, gardening, summer reading, and home projects are already thinking or planning ahead for the fast-approaching days of the new school year? Of course we are! That’s what teachers do! We review, reflect, and continuously research best practices in an effort to make every year better than the last and increase student achievement. From classroom décor to strategically-designed lesson plans, teachers all across the state are already pouring heart and soul into the classroom as we work to become the fastest-growing state in the nation again for the second year in a row.

As I look back to last year and begin planning for this one, I have already determined one practice I will maintain — building strong student/parent/teacher relationships in my classroom. A mentor once shared educator Flip Flippen’s quote with me: “If you have a child’s heart, you have his head.” That really stayed with me, and my students and I worked to build a solid community by creating a Social Contract, or a list of expectations to guide our work together as we engage not only academically, but socially as well. To take it a step further, my colleague Steven Smith and I decided to include parents into our engagement.

The parent contract that Shannon and parents created in August of last year

On a sunny Saturday morning at 10 a.m., over fifteen parents met with us to discuss the previous year’s test scores, their children, and ask questions. While the attendance seemed disappointingly small at first, the conversation that grew from that meeting was invaluable as we got to know the parents and learn about their children at a completely deeper level. We created a Parent/Teacher Social Contract in which we collaboratively created a list of norms that would guide our communication and interaction while keeping students at the center of our work; we all signed the contract, and the resulting parental support was astounding.  We are hoping for an even larger attendance this year.

In her commentary titled, “It’s the Teacher, Not the Program,” author and educator Ardith D. Cole states, “Obviously, the very best teachers are those who are guided by both head and heart; they know their craft well and care deeply about those in their keep. Good teaching requires both.” (Education Week, 12 March 2003) Keeping this in mind, I will again work diligently to support strong relationships with my students and their parents, because we achieve more working as a cohesive unit.

What are your back to school plans so far? How will you build community in your classrooms? Share your ideas on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TNBacktoSchool.