As expats, we quickly become adapted to “zoning out” the world around us. It’s very easy to plug in headphones, walk down the street, and ignore the sounds and actions of those around us. This can also carry over into our lives as teachers, making it easy to get lost in the shuffle of constantly passing parents, colleagues, and students. What we’re also passing up, however, are opportunities for relationship building.
C’mon, Get Happy!
A famous proverb says, “All people smile in the same language.” In order to break the boundary that can prevent parents and teachers from connecting, simply smile at the parents you pass on a daily basis at work. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way in improving relationships with our customers. Although it might feel awkward at first, it looks great and can even make your day a little better in the end.
If you go to a restaurant and are greeted by smiling employees eager to help you, you are more likely to return to that restaurant than if you were to walk into that same restaurant and watch waiters and waitresses pass you by with solemn expressions. In the same way, it’s important that our parents have a positive experience when they’re at EF.
So, how can all of this serve you? I’m here to tell you that the benefits are plentiful, visible, and attainable. The moment I began paying more attention to greeting and being friendly towards all of the individuals I see in the hallways at EF, my Parent-Teacher Meetings and Open Doors became easier. Parents now trust me because they recognize me as a positive and familiar person at EF. When I start a new course, I occasionally recognize the parents of my new students, though we might not have been formally introduced before. Essentially, smiling makes my job a whole lot easier.
Past the Door
Smiling at parents in the hallways and establishing a friendly rapport is the first step to maintaining an open and positive relationship between EF teachers and parents, but it is by no means the last. Imagine going to a dentist, a person whom you trust (and pay) to ensure that your mouth is healthy and beautiful. Now imagine that the dentist smiles at you when you step into the waiting room, but the second you enter the office, he works for an hour with machines making strange sounds, speaks in a language you don’t understand, and doesn’t look at you or bother trying to communicate with you in any way.
The situation I’ve just described is, in fact, quite similar to what I’d feel like as a parent of a student at EF during an Open Door if the teacher didn’t bother communicating with her or his audience (the parents). One example of a professional, easy, and polite way to communicate with parents is to create very short and simple PowerPoint Presentation for your Open Door.
The PowerPoint consists of 3-4 slides. The first slide simply says the name of the class and welcomes parents. I begin the class by asking my Progress Advisor (PA) to come to the front of the class with me to translate a few slides. If my students are advanced (upper-level Trailblazers or Frontrunners), then I ask a student to do this. When this slide is displayed, I typically greet parents. Next, I will display a slide telling the parents what they’ll see in our lesson (skills, areas we’re focusing on, etc.). Thirdly, I display a slide with guidelines and politely ask them to silence their cell phones, refrain from helping their students during the class, refrain from conversations with each other, etc. Setting these expectations before the class prevents disruptions and awkward conversations later in the class. This portion of my class typically takes 3-5 minutes.
I then ask the PA or student to sit, and begin teaching. After around 50 minutes (or shorter, if the Open Door is an Achievement Ceremony), I ask my PA or student to return to the front of the class with me. I hold a 5-minute Question and Answer section for the parents. During this time, I display a slide with my EF e-mail address on it. I translate that at any time, the parents can feel free to e-mail me with questions. In six months of doing this, I have not yet received one e-mail. However, this practice ensures that the parents feel like they have a voice and a place to ask questions.
The Key to Their Hearts
The easiest and most obvious way to satisfy parents at EF is to build and maintain a great relationship with your students. There are many different ways to do this, including greeting your students (by name, if possible) in hallways, doing the best you can as a teacher inside and outside of the classroom to ensure that your students are safe and happy by setting expectations and enforcing rules, being pleasant, and much more.
Perhaps the most intimate interaction you’ll have with parents at EF will be in a Parent-Teacher Meeting. During these meetings, it always helps to begin with a positive comment about the student. Whether the student will pass the class or not, being positive reassures the parents and allows them to rest easy knowing that you see all of the positive qualities that their learner has to offer. This helps the parents to more positively receive any constructive feedback you have to offer. Giving the parents your e-mail address in Parent-Teacher Meetings can help to open doors, and break down boundaries between the parent and teacher.
Once you have shown parents that you are a professional who is invested in improving their child’s English, you have the key to an easy and positive relationship with EF parents.