Ways to develop a positive partnership with parents of young learners

When you're teaching English to Young Learners, the home/school link is a very important one.

When you’re teaching English to Young Learners, whether in a language school, as a teacher in the state school system of the country where you’re working, or on a private basis, the home/school link is a very important one.

If you take the time and effort to build a positive relationship at the beginning of the school year (or when you first meet the children and their parents if you’re teaching privately) parents will really appreciate it and the young children in your class will benefit too.

So, what’s the best way to build that positive relationship with the parents of the children you’re teaching? Here are five ways:

1. Communicate

The most important thing is to communicate, communicate, communicate! I can’t stress this enough – Establishing communication links with parents is so important.

Whenever possible, ensure that you first meet parents before a child joins a class. Depending on where you’re teaching, you might have a chance to do this for half an hour, 5 minutes or 30 seconds. Any amount of time meeting the parents, even if you only get a chance for a 5 second “hello”, is better than nothing. It opens the lines of communication, making it much easier to keep on communicating as the classes progress. Just like in any communicative situation, miss that first chance to break the ice, and breaking it the next time becomes harder!

In this first meeting, if you have long enough, make notes and take an interest in the child in a holistic way. For example, ask about their character and interests. You can also ask about allergies and any other important information you may need to know (though ensure that this kind of information is officially documented with your school’s administration as well).

After this first meeting, take the chance to talk to parents at the end of the class or whenever you need to. Often just a few words when they come to collect their child is enough for parents. You can also use a home/school book and write a few words or important messages. The child can take this home with them for their parents to see.

The communication link works both ways, and it can be as important for the parent to tell you something as it is for you to tell them! For example, children might tell their parents about something that happened in a class, for example if they are worried about something but are too shy or unable to tell you. If you are in contact with and know the parents, it will be much easier for them to let you know about this.

If you are trying to start the lesson and a parent wants to speak with you, politely explain that you need to start (however, do quickly check that it’s not urgent) but that you will be happy to meet them afterwards or whenever convenient for you both.

2. Tell parents what their children are going to learn

It’s a good idea to let the parents know what their child is going to learn every week. Either send an email/note, use a home/school book, or post on a noticeboard outside the classroom.

One important reason for this is that parents might not be aware of the stages of development for Young Learners. Sometimes parents might have expectations for their child that aren’t age appropriate and if they see planning, it gives the opportunity for a two way conversation to alleviate worries about this.

Many parents like to help their children at home, so give them some tips and ideas for games or activities they can do with their child to extend the work you do in the classroom.

3. Be honest

If you don’t know the answer to a question from a parent then just be honest, but add that you will try and find out the answer. Explain that you are always there for them to discuss any issues.

Don’t be afraid to tell parents, or the school (depending on the policy of the place you’re working) about any misbehaviour. Addressing this early on can often prevent it from becoming a bigger issue down the line. If you’re working in a language school, always respect the school’s policy on reporting misbehaviour. Ensure the child has a voice too in these situations, which may involve having a translator.

4. Allow children to take things home

When the children have been creative during a lesson, let them take things home. This allows them to celebrate their achievements, and is an indirect way for the parents to learn more about the creative activities you do in class. Another advantage of this is that children may try to use English to tell their parents about the piece of “work” if it is something they are excited about.

5. Reassure

Reassure parents that, even if their child doesn’t use any English at home, they are still absorbing the language and everything going on around them. This might also be the case in the lesson itself. Children go through what’s called a “silent period”, which is a normal stage in the process of learning a second language. The child is either unable to or chooses not to speak in the second language, even though they might understand – the silence does not equate to not learning. Never try to force a child to speak – they will suddenly do so when they are ready and comfortable.

Some extra points

Before we wrap up, a couple of other things to mention:

Some teachers might feel anxious about communicating with parents and are concerned they are being judged. However, parents simply want the best for their child and might be seeking ideas on how to support them. They are also often just taking an interest in how their child is learning English.

If a parent doesn’t speak or understand English and you don’t speak the home language of a particular child, find someone who is willing to translate for you. Ensure to have this option in place for parents, as it not only looks professional, but is important. Don’t rely on other parents or friends.

Final thoughts

When you’re teaching young learners, whether on a one to one basis, in a class at a language school, or as part of their regular school day, getting the best out of them, and giving them your best, will be a lot easier if you have a positive relationship with their parents. Whether this is just a wave “hello” at the start of each class, a quick word with a parent when they come to pick up their child, a note for parents in their book, or a half hour meeting at the start of the school year, thinking of parents as partners and working as closely with them as your situation allows, will bring the best results for the children you’re teaching.

Susan Brown
Susan is an Early Years specialist teacher with a passion for teaching Young Learners for whom English is an additional language. Since gaining a distinction in her Education degree, she has taught both teachers and children in countries including Spain, the UK and the UAE, and has also volunteered in Mexico, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Share this post:

Add a comment