4 Ways to Strengthen Counselor-Parent Relationships

By: Neeti Sarkar

If you've been reading my posts here, you will remember that like some of you, I took up my current job just before the pandemic hit. This meant I didn't get to meet my colleagues, admin, students, and their parents, for 19 months! However, given the nature of our jobs as school counselors, in a time of total chaos, uncertainty, and loss, I didn't have a choice but to find ways to make connections within the community, albeit online, especially with the parents.

Collaboration between school counselors and parents is essential for supporting the academic and personal success of students. Here are some simple tips to help you build better relationships with the parent community:

1. Communicate regularly

regular catch up with parents

Parents like being in the loop. About everything. This doesn't necessarily mean they will reply to every email you send out or take the time to appreciate the effort you make to keep in touch. But parents, in general, like knowing that you are looking out for their kids. Given our colossal caseload and hectic schedules, in-person meetings may not always be possible. I still use Zoom to meet with parents who can't come to school or when it is a matter of urgency. Rather than building relationships reactively, it is advisable to be proactive. This could look like sending out weekly/bi-weekly/monthly newsletters that include your SEL/Character Trait focus for the month, tips and tricks for parents, relating to a general area of need, etc.

Back-to-School night at the start of the year is a great way to introduce yourself, your program, and the services you offer. I often conduct parent surveys using Google Forms. And as often as possible, I host parent workshops via our Coffee Morning/Afternoon Tea sessions. I utilize this time to give parents a hands-on experience of how to deal with different issues that we've gathered through the surveys sent out to them. The one on 'school refusal' and 'helping kids stay motivated', in particular, received a great response. Make sure to provide resources to help them support their child's developmental and academic needs. Ongoing communication helps parents feel involved and invested in their child's education.

2. Collaborate

collaboration

Collaborating with parents, especially of your Tier 2 and 3 students will also mean sharing information about the student's progress, and social and emotional well-being. Collaboratively developing a plan for support to address any concerns or challenges the student is facing, is another important way to build trust with parents. More often than not, parents too need strategies to work on the same skills, attitudes, and behaviors and will do well if they are also provided with some psycho-education.

Collaborating with teachers is another way to strengthen the bond with parents. In my early days at my current school, I would attend Parent-Teacher Conferences to not just get to know new parents but to also provide support and insight to both parties, to ensure students' well-being is at the forefront of learning and teaching.

3. Listen actively

listening to parents

More often than not, the parents I meet with feel as if they've not been heard out or that their concerns have been dismissed or treated lightly. Giving them your time, taking a keen interest in what they're saying, empathizing with them, and validating their concerns before offering support or feedback, can go a long way in building a good connection with them.

4. Advocate for your students

one on one counseling with a student

When parents see you advocate for their child, you will invariably gain their trust and respect. This could mean spending extra one-on-one time with their child, helping teachers out with strategies to use when the child is having a meltdown, and speaking with admin to make certain accommodations for the child, to provide an equitable learning experience and environment for their child.

What are your go-to strategies for building relationships with parents in your school community?

About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she's worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti's also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn't making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.

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