10 ways to promote positive parental relationships

Ginny Bootman provides 10 ways to improve relationships with parents and carers, increase engagement and work as a team

Author details

Ginny Bootman is a SENCO who has over 25 years’ experience as a class teacher, having also been a headteacher. She is now SENCO of two primary schools in Northamptonshire. Her passion for the role which empathy plays in the job of the class...

Parental engagement is a huge factor in ensuring pupils are happy, settled and successful both academically and pastorally in school. It is perhaps even more important with those parents of a pupil with SEND. It can impact on homework attendance, good behaviour, self-esteem and overall achievement, so promoting parental involvement and building positive relationships is crucial. 

How can we open up those lines of communication and keep them open? How can we gain the trust of parents and carers and make them feel comfortable? Here are 10 suggestions.

1. Start walking along 'The Empathy Road'

Find a commonality with parents; this is usually their child as you can easily find a positive to share with them. Talking about something which you have seen their child doing successfully or discussing the child’s favourite toy are easy ways into conversations. These first interactions are the start of what will become long term connections.

2. Read the room

Listen to understand. When a parent speaks consciously acknowledge what they are saying and allow them to say what they need to say without interrupting. This allows them to own the conversation which makes them feel valued. To be valued is so important when building positive relationships.

3. Find the right time

Triage your time. If a parent wants to speak to you gauge the situation. Is it best to speak to them now and potentially rearrange other commitments to avoid the situation escalating? Or would it be better to arrange a meeting later in the day? Vocalise your thoughts to parents and they will help you decide by their reaction whether they need to speak now or if it can wait to another more convenient time.

4. Meetings

Who: who to have at a meeting is vital. As educators we can appear overbearing if there are too many of us in a room with a parent. Decide who needs to be in a meeting. In the same way ensure that parents can attend if they want to. Don’t rely on one parent reporting back to another.

If a parent wants to bring along a friend or relative actively encourage it. This allows for a fuller conversation about the child which is always helpful, and everyone hears and sees through different lenses.

How: in current times hybrid meetings are very much the norm. Consider the best way to have the meeting be it face to face, virtually or a phone call. Remember that some individuals would rather have the camera turned off for virtual meetings, so respect this choice.

When: find a mutually convenient time for the meeting. Identify when you are available, give a few options and then ask the parents if any of these suit them. This then gives the parents a feeling of being an integral part of the process as they are given choices.

Why: always make it clear why a meeting is going to take place then everyone is fully prepared. The worst thing is to attend a meeting when you don’t know the purpose. If we know beforehand, we can consider our viewpoint and be prepared rather than being put on the spot.

The layout of the room: if your meeting is going to take place in a formal room consider the environment. If we sit behind a desk, we are inadvertently providing a ‘barrier’ between ourselves and the parents. Consider moving your chair away from the desk. This gives a more friendly environment.

If you and colleagues are attending a meeting find a way to make the seating as least confrontational as possible so there is no divide between school and home.

Think about how we sit: I realised I often sit in meetings with my arms folded as it is comfortable but it could be seen as a ‘barrier’ so I now consciously don’t fold my arms.

Read the room as a meeting is about to begin. If parents appear agitated acknowledge this and allow them to voice their agitations. This means that they have a sense of ownership of the meeting and that their concerns are directly being listening to and addressed.

The worst thing to do is to ignore the tension within the room. Once this is spoken about it can be discussed and a plan put in place to resolve it. Ignore it and it can often escalate further.

The cup of tea: I always begin a meeting by asking parents if they would like one. Often they say no but when I say that I would like one they often change their mind. This breaks down barriers and also allows natural pauses in conversation for individuals to sip their drink.

5. Carry on along the empathy road

Trust does not happen overnight. It is something which we must consciously buy into and feed. We need to check in with parents frequently to keep that connection alive. This may be via email or as a quick check in at the end of the day, whatever suits the need and the relationship at that time.

6. Get out on the playground

Take your brave pill. Get out on the playground and socialise with the parents. Let them see you being out at the beginning and the end of the day as the norm. Greet them alongside all other parents as something that you do. This means that when the need occurs to chat to them about something specific it becomes an extension of previous conversations rather than what could be perceived as a confrontation.

7. Hide paperwork in a general meeting

I consciously do not sit behind a desk for meetings with parents with a pile of paperwork in front of me, that is too confrontational. What I do have is the paperwork accessible should I need it. A very subtle way of showing I am prepared but that I am not hiding behind the paperwork. This allows conversations to flow rather than me to appear to have decided on the direction of the meeting without considering the parents.

8. The little things make the biggest difference

When a parent asks to speak to you about something imagine how much bravery it has taken to make that first step. In my experience parents do not ask for the world, they ask for understanding of their child. They want to make things easier for everyone. These are often small things that can be changed which can make such a big difference to the individual.

9. Be the balance on the seesaw

Our role is often one of balancing the seesaw in our schools. Class teachers understandably see parents through a different lens to us. We can be the individual who sees things more objectively and can provide the link between class teachers and parents and ‘calm the waters’ simply because we see things through a different lens.

10. Follow The Empathy Road

Never forget that these parents are often facing many barriers in their quest to get the best for their children. We often get the backlash of another door being metaphorically shut in their faces. When they are angry or annoyed, I find often it is not with me but with the system. We are the listening ear they need because they trust us.

You are doing an amazing job by building these positive relationships with parents which have a huge impact on their children’s future.

What difference do these make?

This is the big question. What happens if we implement these ideas; what changes can occur and what improvements can be made? These are some things to look forward to.

  • Relationships between home and school become more honest and transparent and so there are less barriers. Conversations become dialogues and true listening occurs.
  • Worries and concerns get ‘nipped in the bud’. The idea of the small things making the biggest difference really does become a reality.
  • Difficult conversations become more of a dialogue rather than a blame game.
  • Most importantly it paves the way for children to be fully understand because those around them all get to know them as the wonderful individuals they are. Together we provide a joined up blanket of trust for the children acknowledging the parents as the experts of their children.
Last Updated: 
24 Aug 2022