The education of children is a responsibility that must be shared by the teacher and families alike. We need to recognize what a powerful asset a parent or family member can be; what powerful components parents and guardians are to a child’s success. To work effectively, teachers need families to support their academic, disciplinary, and homework efforts.
It is just as important to build relationships with families as it is with the child. By establishing positive relationships with families, and by conscientiously maintaining these relationships throughout the year, you will find that family members are true partners in the education of their children.
To begin building this relationship, an excellent practice is to contact parents/family members early in the school year to introduce yourself. Let the family member know you are happy to be their child’s teacher and that you will keep them informed of their child’s progress. Encourage the family member to contact you at any time if there are questions or concerns. Let the family member know that by working together, their child will have a very successful school year.
When I train educators across the country on building relationships with families, I find that what teachers can do to gain families’ commitment, involvement, and support falls into these major buckets:
In every interaction with families, begin with a caring statement about the child followed by a positive statement. For example:
- I am calling today because I care about Ryan and it matters to me that he does well in school. Academically, Ryan is very bright.
- I am calling today because Ronda’s success in school is important to me and I know it is important to you. Ronda is a strong leader and has a great deal of potential.
Note: Most family members do not involve themselves in how teachers teach. They do not necessarily care if teachers use whole groups, small groups, cooperative groups, pairs, triads, math manipulative, learning centers, choral response, etc. However, all family members do care about whether the teacher cares about their child. Therefore, starting a phone call or face-to-face conference with a caring statement followed by a positive statement about the child is very important.
In every interaction with families, demonstrate professionalism and confidence.
Plan your conference prior to a phone call or meeting and always remain calm during the conference. Avoid these words: Problem, Trouble, Angry, Upset, Frustrated, Annoyed, Upset, Tired of, Fed up, Sick of, Always, Never
Communicate expectations for academics, behavior, homework.
This should be done in writing the first week of school.
Establish positive communications with families.
Positive phone calls, positive notes, cards, letters.
Send weekly or twice monthly progress reports.
This progress report should denote how the student is doing academically and behaviorally. Any missing assignments should be noted.
Document all issues or challenging situations.
- Student name, class
- Date, time, place of incident
- Description of incident
- What you did to resolve the problem
Contact families at the first sign of a concern.
Practice the golden rule: Treat the children you educate the way you would want your own child treated. The first sign of a problem is when you would want to be notified. As a parent, if you would want a phone call from your child’s teacher if your child is sleeping in class, as a teacher, you should make that phone call. If you would want to be notified when your child has two or three missing assignments, teachers should notify the family member.
Many family members want to help, but don’t know how or what to ask. As educators, we are in a prime position to provide help to families who don’t know how to advocate for their child’s education. As I work with parents and families across the country, I encourage them to talk with their child every day about school and to let the child know their education is valued in their family. This means making sure homework is done every night, looking at their classwork each day, and always encouraging the child to do his/her best in school.
As a teacher, you can encourage families to do all of the above by simply sharing strategies with them. One strategy I’ve often shared is related to homework: as a parent, my children were not allowed to turn on the TV, play video games, or engage in outside activities until their homework was completed. Completing homework became a habit and they were much better students as a result. Sometimes families need very practical advice on how to foster a learning environment in the home and as educators we have the tools to support them in that quest.
To build successful relationships with the family members of your students, and to keep them on board with what’s going on in the classroom, let family members know you value their input. Let families know they can contact you anytime there is a question or concern or if they have advice as to how their child best learns/interacts with others. Let them know that educating their child is an important partnership that you cherish. When this relationship is established, families and teachers can work together for a successful home-school partnership.
Reference: Canter, Lee and Marlene (1991) Parents on Your Side.
By Dr. Carolyn Reedom
Former principal and area superintendent in Clark County Schools in Las Vegas, NV.
For more information on building relationships with students and families, get started today on our self-paced No-Nonsense Nurturer® online course.