Making Impressions and Building Connections

In my house we have a bit of a book obsession. Recently I ran across a book my husband purchased for my 13 year old following his many inquires about how things work in the business world. The book was called, The Visual MBA by Jason Barron. On the cover he touts “2 years of business school packed into one priceless book of pure awesomeness.” He had my attention!

The first thing that drew me in as a visual learner was Barron's use of scetchnotes. I sat down to read this book with the intention of getting some business tips however I was drawn to the correlation between business practices and education.

The first image that grabbed my attention examined making a first impression which happens in the first seven seconds.  For teachers and administrators think about interviews, meeting your fellow staff members for the first time, or meeting a new family to your school.

How do you come across? Do you avoid eye contact and come across timid, do you smile and appear warm and approachable, or do you have flat affect and come across as unengaged? How does your first impression impact your relationship with parents/guardians in your classroom?.

First let’s look at Barron’s list of 7 tips on making a first impression and my interpretation as it applies to our field of early childhood education.

  1. Pre-adjust your attitude: Be present in the moment. Let go of the traffic jam on the way to work, the tiredness you feel after 8 or more hours working with little humans that need all of your attention and compassion, the excitement you are feeling about a night out with friends, or whatever is on your mind!

  2. Adjust your posture: Head up and shoulders back. You want to project confidence and approachability.

  3. Smile: A smile breaks the ice and shows warmth before you speak a word.

  4. Make eye contact: Granted eye contact is the subject of debate depending on the culture and a person's’ own social comfort however offer eye contact, it demonstrates interest in the person.

  5. Raise your eyebrows: Nodding your head or a quick raise of the eyebrows draws attention to one’s face so that other facial expressions can be exchanged.

  6. Shake hands: By shaking hands you are crossing a physical barrier and making not just a symbolic connection but also a literal one. You may end up having a relationship with this family for years so building a connection early is important.

  7. Lean in: Leaning in shows interest and engagement.

When I was a Director in a preschool/Kindergarten program, my plea to the teachers during teacher workweek and the first few weeks of schools was always the same. Take time to make a connection with the families in your classroom early through home visits, during a school visit, and the first few weeks the child is enrolled.

Hold the parents hand a little tighter (figuratively) to support the transition of the child to a new school, new classroom, or new staff. Give them extra highlights of the child’s day, a quick note in the cubby, an email home, a message through your digital platform, or just a quick “Wow, Greg had a great day! He loved playing in the water table this morning.”

Parents want to know you know their child, that you know what they like and how to comfort them when they need support. Parents want to know you are there, you are watching, and their child’s growth and happiness is important to you.

My plea was not just because that connection is important to help a family transition into the program. I had an ulterior motive. In my experience, over the many years of working with families and teachers, the biggest conflicts that I encountered were when a teacher had difficulty building a relationship with a family. That is not always completely on the teacher, let’s be clear! Connections can be difficult to create.

Some parents you rarely see at the school, others may be introverted making it difficult to draw them in or you may have parents deep in conflict over what their child needs.  Whatever the reason it is of the utmost importance to find ways to connect.. Invite the parent in to read a book, send them a handwritten note, provide an interpreter for a meeting (if the parent and teacher do not speak the same language), make sure you are having community events on a variety of days and times.

When teachers are able to build a connection with parents that connection exponentially helps when any type of problem, concern, or misunderstanding occurs. It is much easier to address those situations when teachers and parents are already functioning as a team!

Tips and Tricks

Practice makes perfect. Try role playing meeting a new parent during your staff meeting. Let the ‘parent’ play nervous, disengaged, or excited to be there. Create scenarios to act out. Pretend the first time you meet a mom is at a parent/teacher conference. How do you start the meeting? Pretend the first time you meet a dad is during a classroom event full of people. How do you make that connection is a short time? How do you connect with the grandmother that picks up everyday but does not speak the same language as you?

Be sure and give constructive feedback to your co-workers. Instead of commenting on what you think the person did wrong in an interaction, comment on what you liked and suggest ideas for additional ways to address the situation. I know it feels awkward acting out scenarios in front of people however you will feel more confident during future interactions with families.


Do you want to learn more?

Strengthening Family and School Relationships

How do you create connections with families in your program? Do all your families feel welcome and valued? This workshop will allow participants to reflect upon their connections with families and learn strategies to create a more welcoming school environment.