Rebuild, Repair, and Renew Relationships with Parents for the New School Year

The beginning of the school year is a special opportunity: both a fresh start and a chance to apply lessons from the previous year. With an especially tumultuous year behind us, that fresh start feels particularly noteworthy, and the hard-earned lessons of the past year feel even more critical to apply. As educators look to get the new school year started out on the right foot, we had a chance to sit down with Jane Cofie, a curriculum and instructional designer for Center for Responsive Schools and the author of the new book Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership, to gain some key insights into how to make meaningful connections with students’ families early in the year.

We all experienced a whirlwind of changes over the course of the pandemic, which inevitably impacted the lines of communication between school and home. As educators begin preparing for the new school year, can you share some ideas for rebuilding relationships with students’ families?

This past school year was incredibly unique as educators, families, and students had to navigate the bumps, twists, and turns of learning in remote, hybrid, and socially distanced learning environments. Yet, with all the challenges and uncertainty of this past school year, educators have grown in their craft tremendously and developed creative and innovative ways to develop and teach lessons, support students’ learning and growth, and build relationships with families.  As educators begin to prepare for the new school year, it’s important for them to take time to review and assess the ways in which they were able to effectively build relationships with families over the past year and keep or refine the practices that encouraged positive school-home relationships to grow and thrive. Practices that emerged, such as sending welcome videos to families and hosting virtual meet-and-greets, are practices that provide strong opportunities to build relationships with families.

One of the areas you highlight in your book, Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership, is how to address potential challenges that may arise between school and home. What are some proactive strategies educators can use at the beginning of the year to repair cracks in the school-home bond while setting the relationship up for success?

Early communication is key. Initiating connections with families early can help create a climate in which families feel welcome. Early connections can be formal or informal, virtual or in-person gatherings, or activities before the school year gets underway. Establishing an early connection between home and school also provides families with the opportunity to ask questions and express thoughts or concerns. However, before we can establish a strong and positive home and school relationship, it is important to take a moment to step back and assess aspects that might have affected communication in the past to determine the best way in which to connect. This provides an opportunity to consider what components might be missing or need adjustments, determine when miscommunication might have occurred, or discern possible obstacles that might make communication difficult moving forward.    

Based on the research you did for your book, what are some ideas for renewing relationships with families at the start of the new school year?

Relationships are incredibly important and establishing positive relationships with families in the upcoming school year is essential for students’ success. This year may bring us a few steps closer to the look, feel, and sound of what we consider a “normal” school year. Similar to last year, families will still want to be informed, supported, and included. Continue to make building relationships with families a priority. Inform them about how this upcoming year will look. As you support students’ learning throughout the year, look for opportunities to welcome families into the classroom and school, both virtually and in person.

Relationships are built on trust. Educators have a unique opportunity to build trust at the beginning of the school year. What key thoughts should educators keep in mind as they begin to create the building blocks of trust with students’ families?

I would recommend keeping these four thoughts in mind as you work with families: 

  • Be open and honest about the upcoming year.
  • Be willing to share and discuss areas of strength and of growth. 
  • Work to establish positive relationships early and continue to create a welcoming environment for families that allows them to feel seen and heard.
  • Take time to reflect in order to revise practices that need to be strengthened and continue to strengthen practices that are working well. 

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