Strengthening Your Community: Continuing to Connect with Students and Families
Recently, as I was returning a rental car, the associate behind the desk asked me an all-too-familiar question: “How was everything?” Without very much thought, I smiled and provided my routine answer: “Everything was fine.” She then asked me, “Is there anything that you feel we could do better?” I thought to myself, “What a revealing question!” To answer it, I’d need to go beyond a stock response and dig deeper into my experience to assess what could be improved.
While we all are used to being asked some variation of that first question (and generally have an automatic response for it), it’s the second question that we as educators can pose to ourselves to strengthen the dynamic relationships that make up a classroom community.
What Can We Do Better?
The time after winter break marks the midway point of the school year. Earlier in the school year you did the important work of building relationships with students and families: organizing the classroom space, selecting classroom materials for students, writing welcome letters, hosting back-to-school nights, and holding conferences with families. Several months later, you may have settled into a routine built on the assumption that you have your students and their families all figured out. But our relationships with our students and their families are constantly changing and growing. This time of year provides the perfect opportunity to dig deeper into what you already know about your students and families in order to strengthen the community you’ve created together.
Keep Getting to Know Students and Families
At this point, when the end of the year seems right around the corner and the beginning of the year seems like a distant memory, how do you continue to strengthen your classroom community?
- Observe – Designate moments to observe the classroom community. Take note of how students are interacting with one another at this point in the year. What are students saying and doing now? What new friendships have formed? What relationships seem to be wavering? What challenges are emerging? Careful observation allows you to take proactive steps in order to better support individual relationships and the classroom as a whole.
- Update what you know – The book Yardsticks by Chip Wood is a helpful resource to use at the start of the year and a great resource to consult midway through the school year as students grow and change. Look at the next age group for the students you work with. What are some characteristics that might change the dynamics of the classroom community? Are your nine-year-olds beginning to demonstrate some of the developmental characteristics of ten-year-olds? Being mindful of developmental changes allows you to more fully understand your students so that you can better support relationships as they change and grow.
- Continue reaching out – As the school days settle into a routine, it’s a welcome feeling for parents to know that their thoughts, questions, and concerns continue to be of importance. Continue connecting with parents through regular and spontaneous emails, calls, notes, and invitations to visit the classroom. This time of the year also provides an opportunity to ask parents how things are going and what types of information would support them as the year continues.