Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Taking time to get to know parents sends an important message: We’re a team with a shared goal of helping students have a successful school year. Plus, parents have invaluable insight that can help us better meet students’ learning needs. Forging strong connections with parents is an ongoing process—and it begins with the first days and weeks of school.

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.


About the term “parent”

Students come from a variety of homes and family structures. Many children are raised by grandparents, siblings, other relatives, and foster parents. “Parent” is used here to refer to and honor anyone who is the child’s primary caregiver.

Q: What is one thing you do early in the year to get to know parents and build a relationship with them?

A: Chris Carter teaches second grade in Brooklyn, NY.

Each summer I mail incoming students a letter to introduce myself and share what I’ve been up to over the break. In the envelope I enclose my first family newsletter, which encourages parents to volunteer in the classroom and includes a supply list for their child and some class projects we’ll be doing. I also invite parents to write me a letter (email or hardcopy) sharing their hopes and goals for their child for the year. Parents know their child best and often share information that I wouldn’t otherwise learn until our first formal parent-teacher conference (or perhaps not at all).

When I first issued this invitation, I wondered how parents would respond, given how busy they are and that not everyone is comfortable with writing. I discovered that the open-ended nature of my invitation leads to success. Some parents jot down a few notes while others write a more formal letter. These letters are a valuable resource that I refer to at pertinent times, such as before Reading Workshop, report card writing, and parent-teacher conferences. They help frame my conversations with parents throughout the year because I can connect the classroom goals with their goals for their child.

A: Karla Bisco teaches fifth grade in Minneapolis, MN.

During the first week of school, I make positive phone calls to every family. To have meaningful conversations with parents, I first pay close attention to the positive attributes and behaviors of each child. I jot down my observations of specific examples to share. Some examples might be: “Your son was kind and welcoming to his classmates. He was willing to be partners with anyone in the class.” And “When your daughter was given an assignment, she got right to it. This level of focus helped her complete high-quality work.” Sharing these types of anecdotes helps parents see that I am getting to know their child and the child’s strengths. Our early conversations open up communication between home and school by relieving any anxieties parents may have and laying the foundation for us to work together as a team throughout the year to help their child learn and grow.

A: Amy Moylan teaches first grade in Arlington, MA.

Within the first two weeks of school, after students establish their goals for the year (what I call “Hopes and Dreams”) but before Open House, I send them home with a few questions for a parent or caregiver to answer. This brief survey establishes a baseline for future communication, so it’s one of my most important ways to build connections with students and their families. Plus, I refer to the responses throughout the year to help students reach their goals.

Following are sample questions that I have asked:

  1. What are your hopes and dreams for your first grader this year?
  2. What kinds of things interest your first grader?
  3. What are some challenges for your first grader?
  4. What else would you like me to know?

And here’s an example of a caregiver’s response to the first question and my written feedback that details how I incorporated her concerns into my teaching:

  • Caregiver’s response: I hope my granddaughter learns to read this year; she is nervous because she knows some of her friends can read but she can’t yet.
  • Incorporating caregiver’s concern with written feedback: Your granddaughter read her first book today! Your response to my questions at the start of the year helped me focus on helping her build her confidence in her ability to become a reader. Thank you!
Tags: Back to School w/ Families, Family Connections, Sharing RC with Families, Working with Families