Building Connections with Students and Families

Building Connections with Students and Families

Cultural relevance can be defined as empowering students to maintain cultural integrity while succeeding academically. Culturally responsive teachers and leaders are reflective and gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how they impact others, leading to more cohesive and productive academic and social-emotional development for all students. The connection between cultural relevance and Responsive Classroom can be found in the Responsive Classroom guiding principle: What we know and believe about our students — individually, culturally, and developmentally — informs our expectations, reactions, and attitudes about those students. Responsive Classroom supports cultural relevance by creating strategies and structures that support a student’s sense of significance and belonging while offering a wide array of practices educators can use to make their teaching culturally responsive. 

How Morning Meeting and Responsive Advisory Meetings Support Cultural Relevance

To know students means understanding who they are socially, emotionally, and academically, as well as understanding their individual strengths and needs in order to support their growth. Because virtually learning creates obstacles to gaining this kind of knowledge about students, I have made it a priority at my school to implement virtual Morning Meetings that include both students and families. Including families in Morning Meetings and Responsive Advisory Meetings provides teachers with knowledge about the personal interests, cultures, and unique family characteristics of their students and their students’ families. 

A key way to engage families in the Morning Meeting or Responsive Advisory Meeting is to involve them as active participants. At my school, teachers have leveraged the Morning Meeting components of the greeting and student share to create organic opportunities to build these connections. What family members share during these activities help broaden our teachers’ understanding of their students’ experiences, norms, and traditions; bringing those details into the classroom and building on them is essential to student learning. 

Another way to help family members feel included is to include the family when you greet students individually by name. For example: “Good Morning, Bridgette and family.” Also, inviting students to share experiences that connect directly to their identity, such as what they enjoy most about spending time with their family, helps deepen understanding of our students. The power of inclusivity has garnered trust and engagement from our families that support a students’ sense of significance and belonging. 


Tips for Getting that Support Cultural Relevance in the Classroom

  • Start with low-risk topics to build community and safety, such as  Just Like Me or activities that allow students to connect with each other and the teacher.
  • Invite students to complete interest surveys sharing their culture and background so that their interests and culture reflect authentically in your lessons.
  • Provide weekly communication with parents via email or an online platform such as Class Dojo to keep them in the know about classroom activities.
  • Share proactive communication highlighting what students are doing well and how they can continue to support those strengths at home.

Responsive Classroom’s guiding principles lay the foundation for cultural relevance. Including all students creates a sense of belonging, enabling students to feel valued as members of the learning community. Creating trusting and empathic relationships among students is one step in leveraging culturally responsive teaching practices so that all students, especially students from diverse backgrounds or those who have not felt welcomed or accepted, can create the self-fulfilling prophecy of success within themselves. Identifying Morning Meeting and Responsive Advisory Meeting share topics that allow students to share about themselves in engaging, structured ways helps to build a foundation of cross-cultural understanding and competence.

Bridgette Kelly is a Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher.