What are some ways to go about building positive relationships with families?

Page 7: Respecting Families

In a school’s efforts to make families feel welcome, the importance of showing proper respect cannot be overstated. Indeed, parents often report that they do not feel respected by school personnel. To avoid this potential pitfall, teachers might begin by asking parents how they wish to be addressed (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Ms., first names) and about their preferences for communicating (e.g., notes home, phone calls, email, parent-teacher meetings). Teachers can also show respect by recognizing parents as decision makers and by respecting their points of view.

Recognize Parents as Ultimate Decision-Makers

 girl and daddyRespecting parents means recognizing them as the ultimate decision-makers on behalf of their child. Generally, parents are the one constant influence and presence in their child’s life. For many children with disabilities, parents are actively involved in their lives well into adulthood, whereas teachers influence their lives for only one or two school years. Typically, parents are concerned about all of the aspects of a child’s life, but a teacher’s primary focus is on the educational aspects.

On occasion, a parent might act in a way that a teacher doesn’t understand. It might be that the parent’s behavior is based on factors, such as past experiences, of which the teacher is unaware. Whatever the case, each encounter with a parent is an opportunity to build the relationship. Teachers can forge increasingly positive connections by remembering to focus on what they and the parents have in common—a desire to see the child succeed in school.

Parental Experiences Behaviors Exhibited
Positivearrow Excited
Negativearrow Anxious

Anne T. Henderson
Senior Consultant Community Involvement Program, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Washington, DC

Listen to Anne Henderson talk about the roles parents play as decision makers (time: 1:00).

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Respect Differing Cultural View Points

 eyesSome people view disability as a condition to fix, while others have a more positive perspective and think of disability as a characteristic of a person and a natural part of life. It is important for teachers to develop an awareness of how people of different ethnicities and cultures view disabilities. Various cultures may view disability as:

  • henna on a handA reflection of an individual difference for which we should simply make adaptations and accommodations
  • Something that brings shame or pity to families
  • A stigma, particularly as pertains to mental illnesses or developmental disabilities
  • A spiritual event or occurrence
  • A gift or blessing

Teachers need to respect the fact that parents from some cultures will wish to take on the role of active partners with the school, whereas parents from other cultures might tend to view teachers or schools as experts and assume a more deferential posture. The best source of information about the family is the family members themselves. Teachers who understand their own culture and system of beliefs and values will find it easier to recognize how these might influence how they view others. Click here to view some of the things that teachers can do if they have a child with a disability from a minority ethnic or cultural community in their classroom.

Keep in Mind

Dependability and confidentiality are critical components of respect and will go a long way toward building a positive and trusting relationship with families. Teachers can demonstrate their dependability by returning phone or email messages in a timely manner, following through with what they say they will do, and keeping their word. They can practice confidentiality by not sharing any personal or sensitive information about the family with others except on a need-to-know basis and with the family’s permission.

Anne T. Henderson
Senior Consultant Community Involvement Program, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Washington, DC

Listen to Anne Henderson talk about how respect builds trust and fosters improved relationships between schools and families (time: 1:13).

View Transcript

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