Six Strategies for Partnering With Families at the Start of the School Year
One of the most important predictors for students’ success in school, according to the nonprofit organization The Global Family Research Project, is family engagement (Weiss, Lopez, and Caspe 2018). So, while educators already know the importance of building positive relationships with students at the start of a new school year, it is just as vital that they establish positive relationships with students’ families, too. Below are six steps you can take to support family engagement at the beginning of the year and promote a productive parent-teacher relationship that lasts all year.
1. Be inclusive.
Students come from homes with a variety of family structures. Try the following to promote a welcoming environment:
- Refer to the caregivers in students’ lives as families rather than by using individual titles (mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc.).
- Use phrases such as “our classroom” instead of “my classroom” to emphasize a welcoming tone.
- Determine if there are language or other special considerations needed to better communicate with individual families.
2. Seek input.
Before school begins, send parents surveys either via mail or email with topics such as:
- What are your hopes and dreams for your child this year?
- What does your child like and dislike about school?
- What other information would you like to share about your child? (Leave this question open ended to allow parents to share as much or as little information as they would like.)
Along with the survey, you can also include a list of some of the parent volunteer opportunities that will be available during the year.
3. Hold meet-and-greet and back-to-school-night sessions.
Many schools schedule meet-and-greet and back-to-school-night sessions to foster parent-teacher relationships. Use these opportunities to:
- Introduce yourself with a friendly tone and smile
- Have brief, individualized interactions with those in attendance
- Practice pronouncing parents’ names correctly
4. Send whole-class messages.
Use communication structures such as weekly newsletters or emails to communicate important updates. Whole-class messages can include:
- A recap of the previous week’s learning
- Discussion starters about classroom activities
- Reminders about upcoming events
- Encouragement for parents to reach out with questions or concerns
5. Write personalized communication.
Balance messages meant for the entire class with communication that is specifically for the families of individual students. Personalized communication shows families that you care about their child’s growth and seek to work with the student’s family. For effective personalized communication:
- Reinforce students’ academic and social skills
- Identify a specific short-term goal that the student can work on (i.e., completing assignments on time, staying organized, etc.)
- Use handwritten postcards, phone calls, individual emails, or a learning management system app
6. Manage communication effectively.
Finding time to communicate with families, in addition to all other teaching responsibilities, can be tricky. Consider these tips to effectively manage your time and parent interactions:
- Draft newsletters and email messages throughout the school week as ideas come to mind.
- Send whole-class messages/newsletters at a consistent time during the week to create a predictable routine for families.
- Create subfolders in your email inbox titled with each student’s name to store email messages.
- Use a checklist to monitor the types and frequency of parent-teacher communication. Revisit this log frequently during the first six weeks of school and reach out to families with whom you have had limited interactions.
As Jane Cofie points out in Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership, “Relationships take work” (2021, 2). The strategies outlined above will help you do that work by creating the foundation for a trusting and collaborative relationship with students’ families. Do not get discouraged if your communication methods receive little or no response; continue to reach out to all parents, keeping in mind that positive parent-teacher relationships will ultimately support each student’s academic and social-emotional success.
Andy Moral is a coauthor of Empowering Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Grades 3, 4, 5 and Seeing the Good in Students and the author of the Quick Coaching Guide Replacing Direct Teaching With Active Teaching. He teaches fourth grade in Council Rock School District, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Cofie, Jane. 2021. Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership. Turners Falls, MA: Center for Responsive Schools.
Weiss, Heather B., M. Elena Lopez, and Margaret Caspe. 2018. Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement: Engaging Families to Transform Education. Global Family Research Project. https://globalfrp.org/.