Building Trust With Parents

LISTEN. CC photo from http://flic.kr/p/8wdXrR

At Kent School we meet with a few different parent groups throughout the year and always get helpful feedback on how we can improve things at for our students.

Today we had a First Nation Honouring Ceremony for our kindergarten and grade 1 students so prior to this event, we invited the parents to come in an hour early to discuss education at Kent School (we have created a few First Nation Parent Groups based on previous feedback from parents).  We were thrilled to have over half of our students’ parents come in early.

We started the discussion with examples of how most parents ARE already involved in their child’s education and how some are engaged as well as explaining the difference between involvement and engagement.  I then demonstrated all the ways that families can use technology to become either more informed or more engaged with the school.

As with most meetings, I feel the most important part is the dialogue.  I spoke about how, although I believe school-family communication is very important to student learning, this cannot be done effectively without trust.  We wanted to hear from the parents about how the school can work to build trust in families so they not only feel comfortable coming to the school but also confident that they can speak about their child and feel they have been heard.

After some table talk, we asked the parents to share their thoughts.

  • A father spoke up first and said, “it’s simple… the only thing I ask is that when I discuss my child, LISTEN.  I have been part of schools that have constantly told me what to do but never listened to what I had to say.” [in my opinion, in addition to listening I think we (as educators) need to seek out voices of those who generally do not speak up]
  • A mother spoke up and said, “We know what our child cannot do, we want to hear HOW he is learning and what he CAN do – we appreciate when schools do this on phone calls, meetings, report cards… kids also need to hear this – that they have strengths and areas they need to work on”.
  • A mother stated, “If the school has to tell us something concerning, it is much easier to hear when it is sandwiched between some positives.”
  • A mother discussed how her work affects her involvement, “I feel so disconnected with the school because I work.  I know teachers work all day so I don’t want to bother them in the evening.  I like the idea of having other ways to communicate with teachers so we do not interrupt their time away from school… this would really help me. That way, I can stay connected to my daughter’s school better at times that work for me and the teacher.  I WANT to be connected in person, but working full time makes it tough.”
  • A group of parents said the like receiving the positive phone calls and comments (see post about Friday 5 Positive phone calls)  so they know that just because the school number comes up on the call display, it does not mean it is a bad thing.

There are so many reasons why some parents do not feel they have a relationship with their child’s school.  Policies and directives cannot build trust with parents; however, relationships can.  This is where we need to start.  Build relationships by LISTENING to parents and ENGAGING in dialogue around their child’s learning.

Too often, the education system tells parents what to do or makes judgmental statements that further disengage parents.  We all know that working WITH parents to increase involvement enhances learning in children.  A few parents and families from Kent School have spoken up and provided feedback on how to build trust…

Are we listening? 

Thank you so much to the families that provided feedback; also thank you to our passionate First Nation Support Workers who continue to work so hard in helping our school build relationships with our families.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Chris: Love this post. Trust is such a key part of any “partnership.” You have listed some gr8 strategies that can build this trust with all stakeholders. They are all good examples for kids to see and learn from as well. Thanks for sharing and helping me reflect in my own position.

  2. An important post Chris. It says a lot that the school\admin wants to hear from the parents rather than assuming what they THINK that parents want to hear or discuss. Your examples show me that there is a greater willingness on both sides to work toward trust and meaningful dialogue. Thanks for reminding me that trust is so critical to working with parents

  3. Wow what an excellent post Chris! That’s so great that you had that dialogue with parents! I believe it can make a huge difference for kids and families when parents feel welcome in their child’s school. And even more so when they feel heard! Awesome!!

  4. Great points about listening and engaging, Chris. I think it is easy to forget how important listening…just listening…is. It is also an engaging activity and process in itself. Sometimes parents may not need a solution or answer out of an initial conversation, but I know that time constraints and the expectations we can feel in our roles can sometimes cause us to offer suggestions too quickly. You have an important step in building trust figured out – provide ways for families to give feedback, have spaces for dialogue, and demonstrate actions that say, “We are listening”. I sense that you make the time to do this because you believe in the strength of family support for children in your school community. Hope to hear more about how it leads you and your staff to many good actions and decisions ahead!

  5. I enjoyed reading your post and the positive comments. I appreciate the solution-oriented approaches you’ve suggested.
    I’m curious to know if you have any thoughts on rebuilding damaged relationships and restoring trust.

    • Hey Dan… thanks for the great question. I have had to rebuild a damaged relationship this past year and it is still taking time… calling home with positive feedback, simple hellos in the parking lot, asking for feedback and looking to implement changes based on the feedback (and LISTENING but agreeing to disagree sometimes) have all helped. It is taking a lot of time but I received some positive feedback last month so I think we are at the tipping point for our relationship. The key for me is understanding that we want the same things… but may have different approaches. We need to be respectful in our tone and our actions, even if we do not agree.

      As for a larger scale, many of the parents and families of many of our First Nation communities have had a horrible experience with the education systems in the past and working to rebuild these relationships is going to take a long time. The feedback provided by our First Nation families at this meeting will definitely help me… but I cannot expect it to happen so quickly considering all the pain that was experienced in the past.

      We have a long way to go… but each day we work to build by listening to families and supporting our children.

  6. As usual thanks for the great post Chris, I plan to share it with some stakeholders here in Delta, it’s a great resource/starting point.

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