Working with Families

Question:

In my classroom this year, I am implementing two teaching strategies, Morning Meeting and Rules and Logical Consequences, but I’m concerned about parents’ reactions. I can imagine that they will worry that we’re “wasting time” with play or are too “soft” on discipline. I’d like parents to feel the same interest and investment in these changes as I do. How have you helped parents understand the value of these strategies?

A: I want parents to recognize that Morning Meeting not only builds community but also reinforces both social and academic skills. Here are two outreach ideas that have worked well in my classroom:

Early in the school year, through newsletters and during our back to school (open house) night, I invite parents into our classroom to take part in Morning Meeting. This gives the parents an opportunity to experience Morning Meeting and then, later in the year, allows me to open up a dialogue with them about what we work on during Morning Meeting. If I know a parent is skeptical about Morning Meeting, I try to talk with them immediately after the meeting. Over the course of the year, at least three-fourths of the students have at least one parent join us for Morning Meeting. Parents are often very impressed by the amount of academic and social skills learning that occurs in a twenty minute Morning Meeting. In the future, I’d like to give parents a handout about morning meeting, stating general academic and social goals of each of the components.

I also use my weekly newsletter to inform parents about Morning Meeting. Along with the updates about what we are working on in math, writing, science, reading and social studies, I include a section about Morning Meeting, highlighting some skills we have been practicing. For example, the section might read as follows: Morning Meeting: This week, during the sharing portion of our meetings, we have continued to practice creating a good lead for narrative writing. We have also enjoyed using the group charades activity to reenact scenes from the book I am reading aloud. In addition to helping students learn how to cooperate and work as a team, this activity has reinforced comprehension of key parts of the book. By including the academic skills that are being practiced during Morning Meetings, I can further support the idea that this is valuable academic time.

Mike Anderson teaches third grade at Dondero Elementary School in Portsmouth,
New Hampshire. Prior to this, he taught fourth and fifth grade for eight years in both East Lyme, Connecticut, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He has been using The Responsive Classroom approach for six years and has been a consulting teacher for
Northeast Foundation for Children for two years.

A: When I plan for each new school year, I think about how I can best communicate with parents about my approach to discipline so that we can work as a team. Here are a few ideas that have worked:

In the first few days of school, I call each child’s parent(s) and share positive things I’ve noticed about the child’s behavior in class. I also tell the parent(s) some of the things we’ll be working on as a class. For example, I might say that we’ll be focusing on careful listening. This often leads naturally into a discussion about my approach to discipline and an explanation of Rules and Logical Consequences.

Parent-teacher conferences are another time to talk about Rules and Logical Consequences. Before the first conference of the year, I send a letter home in which I talk about how the child has progressed. I describe specific strengths and weaknesses and include a survey form in which I ask parents to identify goals for their child, including behavioral goals. During the conference, we often talk about the role that Rules and Logical Consequences will have in helping the child meet those goals.

The early conversations I have with parents help me build a positive relationship with them, making it easier to talk about behavior problems that arise throughout the school year. When a problem comes up, I often call the parent(s) and talk to them about the behavior and the logical consequences for that behavior. I explain that everyone makes mistakes; in fact, making and correcting mistakes is an important part of social and cognitive learning. Sometimes, I’ll suggest we meet face-to-face to work together on problem-solving. During that meeting, I might talk with them about ways to use Rules and Logical Consequences at home so there’s more consistency between home and school.

Tammy Mild is a kindergarten-first grade looping teacher at Hempfield Elementary School in Greenville, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for five years and is a
certified trainer in The Responsive Classroom approach.

A: One of the ways I build relationships with parents is to ask them to participate in both Morning Meeting and the process of creating rules for the classroom.

Morning Meeting: Each student creates a Morning Meeting ticket inviting a significant adult in his/her life to attend Morning Meeting. On this ticket, the student describes Morning Meeting, giving specific examples of activities, greetings, and other events; talks about the sense of belonging, significance, and enjoyment that s/he experiences in Morning Meeting; and invites the adult to share this experience. About half of the invited adults attend a Morning Meeting during the year.

Also, the students and I videotape one of our Morning Meetings and the children take the video home to share with their parents. Although the video isn’t professionally done, parents appreciate the effort and can get a sense of how Morning Meeting looks and feels.

Rules and Logical Consequences: At the beginning of the school year, I send parents a cut-out shape, such as a balloon or a musical note, and ask them to write on the shape one social and one academic goal—or what we call “hopes and dreams”—for their child. After reviewing these hopes and dreams with my students and having them create their own, we talk as a class about how classroom rules can help us achieve our goals. We then generate specific class rules. I send parents a letter that includes samples of parents’ and children’s hopes and dreams along with our classroom rules. My goal is to help parents feel invested in the classroom management strategies that allow hopes and dreams to come true.

Terrance Kwame-Ross is currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, Youth Studies Department. He has worked with grades K–8 for seven years and is a former sixth grade teacher. He is a certified
consulting teacher for The Responsive Classroom approach.


Dear Families,

In these first few weeks of school, we’ve been talking about our hopes and dreams for the year and the rules that we’ll need to help us reach them. We want to make our classroom a safe and caring place so that all of our hopes and dreams come true.

To make our classroom safe, we remember:

The Golden Rule

Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Our Class Rules

Take care of yourself.

Help and respect each other.

Be gentle and take care of all the things in our school.

Be a thinking worker.

Families, you can help at home.

Please keep this letter in a convenient place and review it frequently with your child. We are all working together to create a caring community of learners.

Thank you,

Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Flanagan


Dear Parents,

There’s a wonderful new beginning to your child’s school day! It’s called Morning Meeting and it’s a great way to build community, set a positive tone, increase excitement about learning, and improve academic and social skills.

Morning Meeting usually takes between fifteen and thirty minutes. First thing each morning, the children and I gather in a circle. We begin by greeting each other. Every day, your child hears his or her name spoken by a classmate in a friendly and cheerful manner.

Next, a few students share some interesting news followed by a conversation with the class. This helps students listen carefully, think about what they hear, formulate good questions, and learn about each other. When your child shares, s/he’ll have a chance to feel that his/her ideas are valued and that the other children care.

After sharing, there is an activity for the whole class. We might sing or recite a poem or play a math game. The activity time helps the class feel united as a group, reinforces academic skills, and helps the children learn how to cooperate and solve problems.

Finally, we read the news and announcements chart, which helps students think about the day ahead. Sometimes, I use this time to teach a reading, punctuation, or math skill.

Morning Meeting lets children know every day that school is a safe place where everyone’s feelings and ideas are important. We’d love to have you visit a Morning Meeting. Just give me a call to arrange a good time. You’ll see for yourself why we’re all so excited about this start to our day.

Sincerely,

Tags: Difficulties with Families, Working with Families

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