Building relationships best way to earn trust

Parents want to be able to trust the school and the teacher. The alternative is to live with fear every day their children go off to school.

Some parents choose that alternative, and — without realizing — even prefer it. They absorb scary news and gossip and settle on the most suspicious outcomes. I’m glad to say those parents are a slim minority. Most parents consciously look for reasons to trust.

But they still want assurance that their decision to trust is justified. These parents are pretty easy to deal with because they want to cooperate toward a good outcome, instead of doubting the teacher’s strategy for learning or motivation.

When I was teaching educational psychology as a graduate assistant at Purdue, I came across a student who graduated from a high school where I used to teach.

Her mother policed the high school staff, threatening legal action over her daughter’s learning disability. In the university hallway, I looked beyond this girl and spotted her mother 10 feet away, still spying, snooping, suspecting the worst in her absence. She was blind to the irony that she was in constant judgement of others and yet wanted everyone to trust her.

But, again, that’s the minority (even though more parents than ever are getting personally involved with their kids’ disputes at college).

Do you work with children? Here are two few tips I’ve used with repeated success for getting and keeping parents on your side.

Don’t be ambushed

If a student does something rude that the parents probably would want to know about, tell them calmly on the phone without insinuating that poor parenting is the problem. You want to be the first to speak with the parents, cutting off any possibility that the student will invent a story for them.Tell the parents, “I wanted to tell you about this situation because I know you don’t want your daughter thinking she can behave any way she wants behind your back.”Get on the same sideParents impulsively want to defend their children. Most know this and restrain themselves. You can do them a big favor by giving them all the reason in the world to do that.If parents contact you to find out why their son said you called him a rotten egg, you have a golden opportunity. Tell the parents, “I didn’t notice anything serious enough to call you about, or I would have. I want to help you keep Johnny on the straight and narrow. We both want the same thing for him.” Never have those conversations ended without the parent telling me, “Mr. Russell, if my kid ever does anything he shouldn’t be doing, let me know.”

Educators, administrators and school systems sometimes have to weather disturbing accusations from parents and students regarding fairness or morality, just as city managers and police departments face accusations about their intent and performance. The majority of parents do want to trust that their kids are in good hands at school.

Staying aware of this keeps a professional from turning cynical and causes relationships to flourish. That’s public service. You can’t control all the vicious gossip. You have to constantly build relationships with people who want to trust.

Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence community. You can contact him via his website,