Family Connections: 10 Minutes You Don’t Want to Skip
The beginning of the school year is a time for building relationships. I purposefully plan morning meetings, energizers, and other activities so students get to know each other and so our class community can begin to develop. I spend time observing, working with, and talking with students so I can learn more about them both personally and academically. But a few years ago I realized I was neglecting an important relationship at the beginning of the school year—my relationship with my students’ families.
It hit me that apart from open house and back to school night, my only interactions with families were occasional emails or phone calls until parent-teacher conferences in November. I decided that although the beginning of the school year was busy and hectic, I needed to set aside some time to connect with each family.
“Tell Me About Your Child”
Since that realization three years ago, I have jump-started my relationships with families by holding informal, ten-minute conversations in September. When I sit down with each family for our meeting, I simply say, “Tell me about your child.” Then I sit back and listen. Some parents dive right in, telling me delightful stories about things their child did over the summer or the things he or she is most interested in. Others stay on the topic of their child’s academic strengths and needs until I prompt them to tell me what their child is like at home. I ask questions such as, “What does she like to do for fun?” or “What is he really good at?” and “What would you really like me to know about your child?”
From these conversations I learn that although Sarah excels academically, she struggles with physical coordination and can be reluctant to try out some of the playground equipment when playing with friends. Riley can get overlooked by adults because she needs someone to draw her out a bit before she feels safe sharing her ideas. Darren is incredibly thoughtful at home and looks for ways to help his mom with chores or to entertain his little brothers. I add these important tidbits to my own observations and begin to see a fuller picture of each student. That fuller picture enables me to make my teaching more engaging, relevant, and appropriately challenging for each child.
Message: We Are a Team
Another benefit of these meetings is the message conveyed to parents that we are a team. They see that I value their thoughts and opinions, welcome their questions, and take seriously their concerns and wishes for the school year. This first interaction sets a positive tone that carries throughout our communications back and forth during the year. Then, when I need to contact parents about an issue or concern, they already know that I want to work with them as partners and keep them involved.
As another new school year begins, I look forward to meeting my new students and spending time with each of their families. The ten minutes we spend talking is just the start of so many opportunities during the year to touch base, work together, and celebrate their child’s successes.
Suzy Ghosh is a second grade teacher at Bush Hill Elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia.