Connecting with Students' Families in the New School Year

Connecting with Students' Families in the New School Year

How easily do you connect with students' families each school year? Are there areas you can improve in? Communication is often a major factor in building relationships with families because saying the wrong thing can impact your relationship with them and their level of family engagement. The Welcoming Classroom by Johnna Darragh Ernst, PhD, has a variety of information and strategies for ensuring that you can connect with students' families:

Set Communication Goals

What communication goals do you want to set for this coming school year? For example, do you want to work on greeting children and parents or improving your listening skills? One of your communication goals should be to connect with others—to understand and be understood at a meaningful level. Communication and connection play a vital role in family engagement, so it's important that you learn to communicate in a way that helps you prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications with students and their families.

Practicing mindful communication is a good way to connect with families. If you've ever felt like someone wasn't really present in the conversation, you know how annoying it can be to talk to someone who isn't listening to you. The following checklist will help you learn to be fully present in a communication exchange:

  • I am fully present in the communication exchange, thinking about what is happening right now.
  • I am attending to what the other person is saying.
  • I recognize that the outcome of the exchange will be affected by how tuned in I am to the other person.

Try to make sure the communication exchange you have with families clearly shows that you are open to what they are communicating.

Develop Accurate Perceptions

The perceptions we have of other people are based on schemas and things that happened to us in the past, which is why our perceptions can often be wrong. If you want to build positive relationships with students' families, it's important you work hard to dig deeper and disregard your initial perceptions of each family. However, this can be a challenging task. We often unconsciously respond emotionally to our perceptions and make judgements, which ultimately affect our actions and how we communicate. The following four tips can help you become more mindful of the connection between judgement, emotion, and actions:

  • Recognize your initial impulses.
  • Stop and think about your initial reaction.
  • Decide whether your initial reaction is accurate or inaccurate.
  • Respond based on your assessment of the accuracy of your initial response.

Remember that you have a professional responsibility to develop and maintain relationships with families, so try to leave a good impression with families even when you're irritated or upset.

Develop Cultural Literacy

As you talk with students' families, you may find that their culture differs from your own. Cultural differences often affect child-rearing purposes and practices, such as how to put a baby to sleep, how children are played with, and how children are allowed to play. Here's how you can look through your own cultural lens and identify your underlying values:

  • Think about a common daily routine in your classroom.
  • Reflect on whether or not you have expectations for how the routine should occur. Are there certain behaviors you expect of the children? Are there certain goals that you work to develop?
  • Now think about where these expectations and goals come from. What do you think led you to feel that these were most appropriate?
  • Consider the families in your classroom environment. Does each family have shared expectations and goals for their children?
  • If the answer is no to the above question, or if you are not sure, how might varied expectations and goals affect your communication with these family members?

Be sure to browse our Family Engagement section for a variety of tools and resources you can use to connect with families. You'll also find a number of helpful articles about family engagement in our Insight and Inspirations section.