As teachers we know that families must be critical allies in creating learning communities where all children can achieve equitable outcomes. We need to believe that all families sincerely care about their children and will do everything they can to support them. If we, as teachers, reach out with respect, family members will get involved.
Here are some specific outreach strategies that make a difference:
• Make welcoming phone calls to families at the very beginning of the school year. This establishes that you believe that children do best when there is a partnership between home and school. Let families know you will contact them at regular intervals throughout the year and that you welcome their calls, as well. Use this opportunity to inform family members how and when you prefer to be reached.
• Create a survey for families to express their hopes and dreams and whatever else they feel it’s important for their child to have the best educational experience possible. The survey can be sent home with children and followed up with phone calls. Some families will be comfortable with email as a form of communication, and for others, personal phone calls really matter. Attention to home language is critical.
• Call parents throughout the school year to share the good news. Start with one phone call a day!
• Set up family conferences at least twice yearly where you, the student, and the family member meet to review progress and set goals. Encourage everyone present to share their views. Ideally, the first conference should occur in October or early November, well before report cards go out. Identify areas for improvement and agree on an action plan. Draw up a contract with several goals and strategies. Have a place for the student, the teacher, and family representative to sign.
• Showcase student work by scheduling family presentations or exhibitions. This provides families with the opportunity to connect to their children’s learning and the classroom community.
• Offer teaching curricula that provides families with the opportunity to share their histories and cultures. This demonstrates that their experiences are valued and their knowledge is important.
• Provide workshops in the classroom aimed at empowering families to feel confident about how they can support their children’s learning outside of school. (While there can be whole school efforts to do this, my experience is that the more this is done at the classroom level, the more powerful the experience is for parents and the more likely you are to engage them.)
Whatever time and energy you invest in building relationships with families, you will reap the benefits many times over in the growth and achievement of your students. You will also experience a sense of wellbeing from the mutual trust, respect, and community you will be building. In addition, you will be challenging the hierarchy that has historically shaped the family-school relationship and contributed to the under achievement of so many children across our nation.