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Restoring Peace Between Parents and Schools: A How-To Guide

Since 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District has managed to cut student suspensions in half with something it calls “restorative justice.”

The program, which features an array of trust-building and socialization exercises, has been so successful, reports the Los Angeles Times, that the school board is considering a resolution that would establish a pilot program to apply a similar approach to improving communication between angry parents and administrators.

The idea came after a review of several hundred “disruptive person letters” showed that school principals were effectively barring parents described as disruptive from local campuses. While such restrictions are sometimes necessary for the safety and security of staff and students, a local watchdog group pointed to a lack of “oversight” in that process, according to the Times.

Supporters of the restorative justice effort for parents say school principals and others should make an effort to listen to and understand concerns of angry or disgruntled parents, and not reflectively shut them out.

The board referendum said the goal was to “restore and strengthen school and parent relationships and school communities when conflict arises.”

A national concern

Los Angeles is far from the only school district that has sought to cultivate more productive relationships with parents. Across the country, school leaders are looking for ways to foster more positive parent engagement. But getting there hasn’t been easy (Read: 4 obstacles to parent engagement).

Where some parents are active almost to fault. Others struggle to be heard. Often because they don’t have time, or because they don’t know where to turn. In either case, there are steps you can take to improve parent-school relations before things careen out of control.

The popular blog, We Are Teachers, features these 5 Ways Schools Can Build Relationships With Parents (Even the Tough Ones).  

  1. Eliminate the perception of one-way communication. Give parents plenty of ways to reach out to you with feedback. Make a habit of conducting surveys and holding face-to-face meetings, where the purpose is to listen, and not to tell.
  2. Reach parents where they are. Effective communication requires engaging people on their terms, not yours. Find out how parents prefer to communicate and reach out to them using those channels.
  3. Get past negative roadblocks. Many parents are simply disillusioned by negative memories. Sometimes, these memories stretch as far back as childhood. Push past the history by inviting parents into your schools and holding events to showcase how much the environment has changed.
  4. Pay attention to cultural and language differences. Some differences are obvious. Others are more subtle. Either way, you need to ensure that families with different ethnic and cultural heritages have the same opportunities for learning, communication and expression as other families.
  5. Remember, you’re in this together. Some parents don’t believe school leaders want to hear from them, even if that’s not true. Go out of your way to let parents know how much you value their opinions, even if they choose not to offer them.

Want more ideas? If you’re struggling with parent engagement in your schools, read How to rediscover the lost art of communication in schools.