How it begins
In the beginning, we dedicated efforts to ensuring families had the information needed to help their children to succeed. We did this by hosting open houses and “meet the teacher” events to introduce ourselves, create great first impressions, and start the steps forward on the path to building relationships with families. During this time, we shared information on how we will and how families could communicate with us.
When we have built the foundation of communication, our relationships can begin to form with our families, students, co-workers, and community. The excitement of the beginning of a new school year and the need to know can soon fade if we do not actively keep the desire to communicate alive.
The challenge is to strengthen, nurture, and sustain our relationships and build more with the new routines forming as the school continues. Relationships continue and are created with frequent communications, connections, trust, and the more contact we have with each other. Time is a precious element, and we need always to make the most of it and value our time with each other. Design the time families have with us in communication and contact to be at a high level so as not to waste it but to bring value.
Strategies and Actions
Find a rhythm that beats right for you and your school regarding communication. A communication plan will provide a pace for the year to enhance the abilities to build, form and sustain positive relationships. Take a look at these and begin to develop a communication plan to put in place. Every school and district needs a communication plan to reach everyone they serve.
- Be confident and cheerful
In forming positive relationships with parents, be confident in your role and excited to partner with the family to support their child. The enthusiasm we show in helping to provide the best learning environment for their children/child is reassuring to anxious parents. Parents will feel more confident when they know you are in what you do daily.
- Share expectations
At the start of every school year, expectations are always provided, along with many other things. It can be overwhelming for everyone! It is always important to remind staff, students, families, and community about the expectations of the school, district, staff, students, families, and community.
My philosophy of Two Rules is about sharing expectations. You can still follow a communication plan without implementing the Two Rules. Not everyone will follow the expectations, but it is essential to visit them frequently as a reminder to stay on the path to achieve goals successfully.
- Know me
It is one of the most important keys to your communication plan. Know the names of those you are directly communicating with when you are speaking. I have been in small schools and large schools. I am not saying you have to know every single name of the children and their families. However, not all children have the same last name as their families. Learning all you can before you speak helps you escape embarrassing situations. Do your very best to learn the first names of all of your students.
When you speak directly using names, walls can come down, and individuals feel validated because you know who they are. Get to know everyone’s name. Review them as much as possible, and soon you will learn more than you did a week ago. You will keep increasing and making a difference.
- Talking Points
Providing information to others is a way to help them have “talking points” about your classroom, school, or district. It is a great idea to have a system in place to send all of the positive news weekly to a central person who can send out press releases, provide weekly letters home from classrooms, monthly newsletters from the school, daily updates on websites, phone messages to homes about positives about their child and so many other creative ideas others can contribute that works for your plan.
Keeping everyone informed about what is taught is a critical piece. Transparency is needed for building trust. Taking time to share good news about a child with their family is so important. Do more of this daily for everyone.
Awareness of student changes in academics, behavior, personal hygiene, or any other needs or issues with families out of concern. Do not approach the situation with a conclusion but with an inquiry. “We are noticing the student name is not the same. Is this something you are seeing? Any changes at home?
We cannot jump to conclusions or poke at something traumatic. However, we need to address the issues we are seeing. Communicate consistently with the family and address the problems with the student through the social worker.
If we notice or hear something that needs attention, we must be careful not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Families can be complex, often facing significant challenges. Rather than starting with a conclusion, we need to tactfully inquire and allow families to inform us as they see fit.
In education, we utilize the words involvement and engagement. Involvement refers to being involved in activities. Engagement is part of not just the activities but also the decision-making process. When contacting families, parents, or guardians about attending a meeting, we need to remember how they may feel.
School is not always a positive in the memory banks of all. The mention of coming to a school and meeting with the principal, teacher, or anyone affiliated with the school can be frightening. So, be prepared to calm those we are inviting by:
- Letting them know what the meeting is about
- Tell them who will be present in the meeting (Include names-leave off all of the extra initials and titles)
- Explain the roles of each person in the meeting (What do they do?)
- What are the expectations of the meeting (What will this do to help me and my child?)
- How can I prepare for the meeting? What do I need to bring?
- Where do I go?
- Is there parking available? Are there other forms of transportation?
- What if I have questions now, where and who do I call?
- Be an Advocate
Being an advocate for education is the first step in the big picture of helping all students. When you begin to see yourself as an advocate for students and those you serve, it is reflected in your voice, actions, and daily work.
Modeling this advocacy is seen by all, and families quickly pick up the support and protection for their children. This is the best way to gain their support and trust in serving their children. They will listen to what you say and welcome what you offer.
Relationships matter. We know the power of positive, influential relationships with our students. The relationships we form with families are equally important. Reaching out to the community to build strong partnerships is essential to help connect continued support for home, school, and community. This jigsaw puzzle, when placed together, fits perfectly to form the support needed for the foundation for a better tomorrow for all.