When I look back on all of my years in the classroom the thing I remember most is to never underestimate the power of pizza. I had been teaching for six years and was feeling more comfortable with classroom management and teaching content—thus, I was looking for a new way to grow my practice. This was going to be the year of the family! I knew I was on the right track when I sent out an invitation for a back to school pizza night and 100 percent of the families RSVPed yes!
That pizza party before the start of school set the tone for the whole year: “This is going to be fun! This is going to be collaborative! This is going to be a community!” That year was my most rewarding teaching experience thanks to the love and support of the families. Communication is at the heart of building meaningful connections, and below are some of the questions and tips I used to create those meaningful relationships with my students’ families.
Tips for Effective Family Communication:
- There is only one chance to make a first impression. What do you want your first interaction with your families to be? Make it intentional, what are you hoping to gain through this interaction? It could be establishing home visits, or a popsicle picnic in the park or a letter sent to families introducing yourself and welcoming them to your class.
- Consider a weekly newsletter. This can be electronic or a physical copy to be sent home in a Friday folder. The goal is to share what is happening in the classroom on a regular and consistent basis. Being proactive will help with families being informed about what their child is “doing” and will provide a touch point for families to ask questions of their child. Instead of “tell me about your day” it can be “what surprised you when you did your leaf rubbing today?,” etc.
- Focus on the positive. Set a goal for yourself, it could be five positive communications (phone calls, letters, emails) with families a week. This will help you to be intentional on looking for those students embodying the character values or academic goals for your classroom. When you do call home with a student who could use some redirect, make sure to have two or three items to share to celebrate too.
- Listen. No one knows your students better than their families. Showing you are there to listen will demonstrate the respect you have for them.
- SMILE! Whether you have a few seconds across the playground or a quick chat during morning drop off, don’t forget to smile! This small gesture will help to set the stage for a positive relationship with your families.
- “My door is always open.” Families may ask you, how can I help? Be ready to offer options that work for you. This could be reading buddies, chaperones for field work, or someone to stuff Friday folders. Remember, an open and welcoming environment will help create meaningful relationships with the families of your students.
What is going to set the stage for your year? I urge you to reach out and find your “pizza.”