Eight Ways to Build Positive Relationships with Families
At the beginning of each new school year, I still get excited about possibilities for the coming year even though I no longer have my own classroom. I also reflect on what I wish I had done differently. As a young teacher, I did not understand the power of positive relationships with families. Contact was limited to parents' night, one parent-teacher conference a year, and a few phone calls home when there was a problem. Parents were too often thought of as adversaries rather than partners. What a mistake!
Here are eight ways teachers and teams can build great relationships with students' families:
- Send a welcome letter or e-mail to each family at the beginning of the school year, ideally prior to the opening of school. Ask what the family would like us to know about their child. This simple invitation to share information demonstrates that we value the family's input, and quickly brings to light any concerns before issues arise. It's never too late to ask this question.
- Develop a welcome video from hthe team, upload it to YouTube, and share with your students' families. This will help build enthusiasm and relieve stress that accompanies a new year by helping students and their families meet the team virtually, see the team space, and hear details about the exciting topics to be studied in the coming year.
- Make social media an ally in keeping families informed and involved.
- Set up a team Twitter account, and tweet upcoming events—everything from basketball games to upcoming due dates for projects and tests. Using Ella Bowling from Kentucky as an inspiration, ask intriguing questions to preview the next day's lessons.
- Create a Facebook page where team information is kept current and parents can post questions.
- Try Pinterest as a way to share images of student work.
- Use a team wiki to share assignments, rubrics, and exemplars with students and parents 24/7. "I left my assignment notebook in my locker" no longer is an excuse for avoiding homework.
- Adapt Mark Springer's daily log sheet from his Soundings program on which students keep track of their progress and share it with their parents on a regular basis. This allows families to have an ongoing record of effort and progress.
Daily Log Sheet
(from Soundings Program)
Log Question: What are two important attributes a leader should have? Why?
Today I accomplished:
Assignments I Owe:
My Goal for Tomorrow:
- Build into Common Planning Time a system for checking each student's progress on a regular basis. It might be as simple as a set of index cards that contain each child's name that you flip through every two weeks, noting concerns and accomplishments. With this system, the team is aware of any potential issues in a proactive and timely manner, and no one slips under the radar with an unpleasant surprise at report card time. Explaining a failing grade that a parent or guardian has never heard about is not fun.
- Develop a plan and procedure for parent conferences that ensures a positive and productive atmosphere.
- Recognize that parents are nervous about school conferences and be proactive in minimizing situations that cause stress. You could watch a video such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWPwC-HboiU to understand the family's perspective.
- Make sure to start with positive statements about the child.
- Talk as a team beforehand to establish major concerns. Everyone does not have to repeat that Alicia is not doing her homework.
- End with a plan of action—What will the student do? What will the family do? What will the team do? Also include a description of what success looks like and a date to check on progress.
- Set as a goal to initiate student-led conferences. A resource such as Patti Kinney's Fostering Student Accountability Through Student-Led Conferences is really helpful.
- Do not wait for conference season to have students talk about their work. Adopt Anne Davies Take-Home Conference strategy.
- Student sets a specific goal.
- Student shares evidence of growth with a significant adult using the response sheet below.
- The adult responds to the student's work with 2 stars and a wish.
Goal: to improve my editing skills so that I catch my spelling and capitalization mistakes
Evidence: Please notice on my essay that I used their, there, and they’re correctly every time. Also, my social studies project only had 3 misspelling—that’s way down from 20!
Response: Two Stars and a Wish
Here is one last resource full of good ideas for connecting with families. "How to (Really) Listen to Parents" by Babs Freeman-Loftis.
Take the time to forge strong relationships with your students' families. It is not always easy, but the benefits to students are worth the extra effort.
Jill Spencer is a teacher, consultant, and senior partner in Learning Capacity Unlimited, and author of Teaming Rocks, published by AMLE. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education