10 Ways to Establish Rapid Rapport with Parents at your First Conference

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This is my fourth year in Full-Day Kindergarten, and it’s that time of year where I start scheduling conferences with parents. We have conferences before school begins to talk about expectations for the year and complete a few assessments. It can be a daunting task, or at least appear to be a daunting task – especially in Kindergarten. To some parents, it’s no big thing. They may have children in school already. For other parents, it may be emotional because it is their first or last child going into Kindergarten.

One of the things I have learned from my social work background is to establish rapid rapport. Establishing rapport with parents in a short period of time is possible. Here are some tips for Back to School Night, or for me, Before School Begins:

  1. Know your demographics, but don’t assume. It’s easier to establish a rapport with your parents if you don’t assume anything. I talk about taking what I know about parents (perhaps you had a sibling in the past) and put it on a shelf. All children are different, learn different and circumstances change. So, take what you know and put it on that shelf in your brain to take down later if you need it.
  2. Assume the best intent from all families. The way you treat families will come from how you feel before you meet with them. This could be even positive feelings. Perhaps you had a sibling or know a sibling who is well equipped when they entered Kindergarten, but maybe this sibling isn’t coming in with the same skill set. This could be do to family situation or because the child learns differently.
  3. Smile. Coming in with a cheerful and positive attitude that shows enthusiasm about the upcoming year will help put your families at ease, even when they feel just as or more nervous than their child.
  4. Tell your families how excited you are for their child to be in your room and explain your teaching style. For example, I tell my parents that I’m hands-on, play-based and love to engage all my children through imagination. I also tell them that the first few weeks are tough in Kindergarten and to expect bumps. This way they aren’t surprised when I do call them. I also tell them that I will call to make positive reports, because it is such a special year for their child and for them.
  5. ASK families about their child’s strengths. Parents love to talk about their children and will love that you can acknowledge and validate that. Think about some ways you can use those strengths in the classroom. For example, if a child’s strength is using a lot of color in their drawings, tell families that their creative nature will suit their learning style well during writing. Let them know that they will be able to use those different colors to color-code new words.
  6. Let parents know when you will contact them again and how you plan to make contact. On-going connections with families is crucial. This could be a phone call, but it could also just be when parents should expect your first newsletter.
  7. Speak at their pace. If you talk too quickly or too slowly, families listening can become frustrated. If you talk too quickly (especially for families who speak more than one language), they may feel intimidated or unable to follow. If you speak too slowly, you could be sending the message that you don’t value their time. One way to prevent this is also to talk about how you value their time, and for this reason the conference will go from x amount of time to x amount of time. If you need to talk more, you will be happy to schedule another time to talk.
  8. If you are having trouble establishing rapport with a family, find some common ground. Talk about something that appears to peak their interest – usually, this is going back to the earlier question of talking about parents’ recommendations about how their children learn best and valuing this. Asking parents to talk about what makes their child upset and happy is always a good place to go back to when you feel stumped.
  9. Mirror Body Language of families. If the families are explaining something exciting, then you may want to smile with that family. If families are explaining concerns around a child and look sad, you may want to nod your head encouragingly and furrow your brow a bit as well. For American culture, this also means looking families in the eyes. For ELL families, this will depend on the family’s ethnicity and place of origin.
  10. Lastly, ask open ended questions when you are engaging families in conversations. Open-ended questions are questions that have a response that go beyond yes or no. For example: “Tell me about Suzie.” This would be asked instead of a question like, “Does Suzie like school?” If you have a questionnaire that you have families complete, this is a great way for you to also fill in the questionnaire for the families or get most of your information based around conversation instead of an interrogation.

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