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Communication That Strengthens Connections with Families

Dear Christine,

Happy New Year! I hope you had an enjoyable winter break. It's such a wonderful time of year to relax and spend time with family and friends. Can't wait to see all the great things that 2018 will bring.

Your last post on Extending Connections with Families was such a good read and I loved your video! It's clear you're working hard to build connections but you ended your post with a challenge to me: What ideas or resources can you share with me and the new teacher community to help us extend communication and connections with families? I'm going to start this first post of 2018 by sharing some ideas and resources with you that I think you may find helpful.

Christine, in January of 2012, as a resident blogger at Edutopia, I had the privilege of creating and running a five-part series on my Edutopia blog called the New Teacher Academy. It included key concepts that new and pre-service teachers need to develop in their first years of practice. I asked several talented educators, active in social media, to join me and contribute weekly to this series and it was a huge success! One of the segments in the series was on Working with Parents and my special guest for that was the one and only Shelly Terrell. In that post, she shared four tips which I think are so important not only for new teachers but all teachers.

Now, I want to share them with you here. Although they may be somewhat familiar to you it's good to start the new year with a refresher!

Let's look at the Four Steps that can make a big difference in working with parents:

1. Begin on a Positive Note

It's important to communicate with parents at the very beginning of the school year, and start with some positive news. Often, teachers only communicate with parents to deliver bad news. In the beginning, we find out about our learners, and it's easier to discover their talents then and share this information with parents. At the beginning of the year, use a blanket email. Copy and paste the first two sentences and always say something along the lines of, "Dear Mr./Mrs. Garcia, I really enjoyed meeting Jose, who is very bright and makes me laugh at his funny jokes." Then add a personalized sentence or two about each child, making sure that it's positive. This way, your first communication with the parent is positive. Include information and links to your google classroom or school website page, add your contact information, where they can find homework, your meeting hours, school supplies needed, and other important dates or information. At the end of the email, ask the parents to respond with answers to questions such as when is the best time to contact them and how they would like to help. If the parents have a question, they are more likely to respond back to this email since it's so much more personal for them.

2. Ask Parents for Best Communication Method

Ask parents about the best way to communicate with them. Is it email, text message, Twitter, or letters sent home? Communicating digitally can help manage time and also develop relationships with the parents. It's easier and quicker to send an email or text message about all news concerning the students, but let's not forget that a letter from time to time is also helpful.. Most parents spend a lot of time working and may never have the chance to meet you face to face, but when you give them these communication options you'll see how much they appreciate your flexibility.

3. Invite Parents to be a Part of the Team

Invite parents to participate in helping their children succeed. Ask what they think would make the curriculum better, and—if the ideas are good—try to implement the suggestion. I've known of parents who are eager to contribute but never get that chance. See if asking them to add Google classroom content such as song lyrics or YouTube videos, a book or game might be of interest to them. Invite parents to volunteer and help! Parents can decorate the classroom and help with set up. They can gather and organize fundraisers to get computers or other needed items in the classroom. They might even be able to update a class' online calendar with their children's upcoming competitions or ceremonies so that as a class they can support each other. Consider putting parents in charge of the activity of the month or resource of the month in google classroom or other online community. Parents can organize field trips or help you line-up classroom guest speakers. Remember... just like students, parents need to feel valued and included.

4. Do Workshops with Parents

Invite parents in! Introduce them to your curriculum by hosting a workshop and serving food! Food entices people to come. Host workshops after the first few weeks or now as the new year is starting in order to go over what technology you use in the classroom, games you will play, class rules and more. Talk to parents about their concerns, and share some great dialogue. You might even video record the parent workshop and then send it to those who weren't able to come so they can have access to the content. 

Christine, you're already on your way and using wonderful digital ideas to build community in your classroom but take a look at those that are more face-to-face in nature. Nothing can replace the personal contact of actually seeing and talking to your parents in person to grow your connections with your families.

I hope that one or two of these ideas will appeal to you and that you'll try them out!


(P.S. Stay tuned for a Welcoming the New Year message for new teachers from me and Christine next week!)

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