How Vulnerability Can Be the Key to Getting Parents Engaged

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Natalie is a 2nd grade teacher in one of Possip’s partner schools. Recently, she talked with our team about parent engagement, and how she got over her fear of being vulnerable with her students’ parents.

Vulnerability in School

During Natalie’s first several years of teaching, she taught kindergarten and first grade, and was originally a little nervous about engaging her student’s families. “Early on,” she said, “I was terrified of parents. I didn’t want to disappoint them,” she said, noting that she didn’t want to come off in the wrong way to families. The majority of families were Spanish speaking, so she often called her mom — a native Spanish speaker— on the phone to translate or support in translation during parent teacher conferences.

— At the elementary school where she taught, the parent relationships essentially “could be what you wanted them to look like. It wasn’t prescribed; it was really however much effort you put into it,” noting that sometimes that looked like really “healthy, deep relationships.” Or, on the flip side, they could also be almost nonexistent if you didn’t work to build them.

As she grew as a teacher, her ability to engage families as stakeholders and partners developed as well. “I obviously always valued the family because they’re giving you their most prized possession,” she said, and that even though there were language barriers, she knew that it was important to “take a risk and try to bring the humanness to the conversation.”

Her relationships developed over the course of her first several years of teaching, where she had the opportunity to teach siblings and cousins of students she’d had in previous years. “By my last year I had a mom who—almost daily—would bring the leftovers from their dinner the night before so I had Kurdish food in my freezer constantly.” 

This type of relationship signified a meaningful shift for Natalie, and eventually she started to feel like the way she engaged families was “life changing for me and my kids.” Eventually, she felt in some ways like “we were all a family,” especially given that she and parents shared common aspirations and hopes for students. She says that it was ultimately about the fact that both teachers and parents want what’s best for  students.

— By the end of those first few years of teaching, she felt like she and her families spoke the same language. “Once I leaned in and was more vulnerable I was able to build those more authentic relationships.”