The Connection Trifecta: Building Relationships between Students, Teachers and Families from the Start
“Mom!!!” E, my now fourth grader, exclaimed with a big smile as he greeted me in the first week of school at after school pick-up time. “Guess what my new favorite class is?” I quickly flashed through the likely answers in my mind including gym, lunch, and recess. “It’s Spanish!” he responded urgently wanting to tell me more.
His new Spanish teacher, he went on to tell me, had only spoken Spanish to them, no English. The students’ challenge was to communicate with him. And the homework he gave was to involve parents. He taught his class how to introduce themselves to him in Spanish and assigned them the task of teaching the introduction to their parents. Then when parents have the chance to meet him in person at Meet the Teacher Night (tonight), we’ll get to try out the Spanish introduction our child taught us. It was remarkable to me how 1.) excited this got my son who has been practicing each day since and 2.) how simply and brilliantly this brand new teacher began a positive relationship with our family before we’ve even met.
There are numerous reasons to prioritize making this caring connection from the start. As educators, we know that parents play an essential role in the physical and social and emotional aspects surrounding school. A healthy breakfast and a good night sleep’s both contribute significantly to a child’s ability to focus and learn. But also, the motivation and attitude a child brings to school can be evidence of their home life. Do they feel organized and ready? Do they feel stressed and chaotic? These are all factors that educators must lean on parents to influence at home.
And in addition, parents must rely on teachers to advance the learning of their children each day considering where they are in their development. That’s no small feat! And though children are influenced by the adults around them, they are responsible for their own learning and bring their own set of opportunities to the relationship. So often, we focus on the adults while forgetting that the child is just as critical a voice in the grand trifecta as parents and teachers.
Parents, if you were informed that a new co-worker was starting work this week and was added to the team you are on, what would you do? Would you wait to run into the new person? Perhaps. But maybe you would consider that the new person is going to play a key role in your career so you’ll be proactive about getting to know him or her. The same can be said for a teacher whose been assigned to your child. For the next year, they will play a critical role in your family life. They are now a core team member on your caregiving staff, a team on which you play a leadership role. With that in mind, it’s worth giving some thought to how you want to make those first connections warm and caring. Here are some ideas.
Hopes and Commitments
Take a family dinnertime or weekend moment at home together to reflect on your hopes for the year. What do you hope for your child for this second-grade year? Then, record them together on a sheet of paper to give to your child’s teacher. Take it a next step further and discuss commitments that you’ll make as a family to contribute to your hopes. What efforts will you make at home to contribute to learning at school? How will your prioritize your child’s education? This offers multiple benefits including the opportunity to discuss how each family member will take responsibility for contributing to your child’s education including your child! I am including a template for your family to use.
Take a moment to write a family biography together. You can list a few attributes that make your family unique. This will offer the teacher a quick snapshot of who you are and what you care about.
The start of school can be an extremely busy time of year. Perhaps the simplest way to begin a relationship with your child’s teacher is by finding a time to shake hands and introduce yourself. You could hang around at drop off or pick up time or stop by during lunch. It can take a mere minute to introduce yourself, offer a smile and a first impression. And when you do, you’ll get that key partnership started.
Mercer Island School District in Washington state offers coffee for all of the teachers on the first day of school. My dear friend Sharon Perez championed the effort with flair in her sons’ school this year. Bringing coffee for your child’s teacher is such a simple act of kindness and can give you a nice excuse to introduce yourself at the beginning of the year. Do it cooperatively with other families or do it on your own with your child as he heads to his classroom to start the day.
Did you know, according to the Education Market Association, that teachers spend an average of $500 of their own money to supply their classrooms with the tools, resources and stimulating imagery and messages that we have come to expect in our learning environments? Why not help your child’s teacher with this issue? Whether you organize with other families or do it on your own, offer to purchase supplies or provide a gift card to your teacher’s favorite supply store. You could send in a note through your child. Then, be certain to involve your child in picking out the supplies for the teacher. Or ask if your teacher needs items made for the classroom such as cut-outs for bulletin boards or other decorations. Make at home with your child and send in as a support. Check out the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ posters that offer social and emotional themed messages for home or classroom!
The Teach Back
Building upon the Spanish teacher’s example aforementioned, teach your students something simple about academic content or about yourself personally. Then, assign your students to teach it to their parents. When you have your open house night, make the connection with the learning. If you do not have a back to school night, then find a way to connect back. Ask parents to write down their reflections on what they were taught as part of the homework. Get your connected trifecta started!
At drop off and pick up time during the first week of school, offer parents the chance to write down a phrase or sentence about their hopes for this school year. Place a banner or poster on your classroom door or school entrance entitled “Hopes for a great year!” Encourage students and families to contribute.
Either ask students to bring in family photos or take a moment to have students illustrate their families. Discuss what families do for fun. Discuss family rules and how each family has different rules (in conjunction with discussing school rules). Display family pictures.
About My Family
Form a circle and do a go-around taking turns asking questions about students’ families. Pass a talking stick to designate a question asker. Model a first question such as, “What is your family’s favorite food? What do you enjoy doing together? What makes everyone laugh?” Be sure that you share about your own family. Ask students to share what they learned about you and others at home.
Artifact from Home
Give the assignment in the first week or two of school to bring something in from home (a non-living object that can fit in a backpack) that is representative of each student’s family. Guide students to involve their parents in the selection. Have each student talk about the object they chose and what it says about his or her family.
Send a note home with students encouraging parents to stay for a Morning Circle on a particular morning in the first six weeks of school. In a large circle, students could introduce their own family members to the rest of the class offering a name and one unique attribute. Teachers could first model a positive introduction.
Teachers could give students the opportunity at the end of the day on Fridays in the first weeks of school the chance to reflect on their learning. They might respond to the prompts: “What I learned…”, “What I enjoyed…”, and “What I hope for…” These would be sent home to parents to help them better understand their child’s experience of his/her first weeks of school.
Though we will be attending to the logistics and the emotions of the transition back to school for our children, it is the relationships that will support those changes. Though basic, introducing ourselves to our key learning partner – educator or parent – can fall by the wayside if we do not prioritize it. Find some ways to make a caring connection at the start of the year and your partnership can only grow from those seeds you’ve planted.