Building Bridges: Making Initial Contact with Students' Families

Posted by Rashawnda Atkinson on Sep 23, 2016 11:40:00 AM

laptop-601536_1920.jpgNow that the school year is in full swing, educators must find a way to connect with the families or support systems of the children they serve. Establishing early contact with families promotes a healthy school-community partnership and demonstrates that you are not only concerned with the child’s success this school year, but also value their insight into how to best support their learning development. Listed below are some suggestions that may help you in making the most of this valuable time.

  • Develop a plan before you begin. Have a communication log where you maintain the various ways you communicate with families throughout the year. Divide the number of students across the week and organize them based on the priorities that you consider important (i.e. enrichment or support strategies, academic or behavior patters). Taking notes or writing bullet points for each child helps frame the conversation and allows you to stay focused on the purpose of the call. If you know you will need additional support, including a special educator or interpreter, check the policies within your district about the services available to you and any deadlines for requesting such services. Make copies of any support strategies or reinforcement tools you want to send home and have them near by as well as a list of websites or mobile/tablet apps parents could use to help their children at home.

  • Check contact information. Be sure it’s up to date and that you are able to pronounce the names of the primary caregiver. If you have yet to confirm and cross check the contact information at the beginning of the year, do so through a note home before beginning the process.

  • Have personal items and supplies handy. Since you are talking for an extended period, you will want to have a beverage near by as well as tissues, extra pens, grade book, laptop, and other essential items near by. By doing so, this cuts down on finding resources if parents ask questions about their student’s success.

  • Use a basic script for each call. Give a welcoming greeting and ask if this is a good time to talk. My strategy was to always focus on one positive aspect of the child, an enrichment or support strategy, an extra educational resource—such as Big Universe’s digital collection of over 10,000 books on any subject for every reading level—and end with addressing questions or concerns they may have. I always ended the call by thanking them for their time and the privilege of teaching their child, followed by inviting them to an upcoming event at the school (e.g. Back to School Night, field trip, family activity).

  • Keep conversations relatively short. Remember, these initial contacts are not replacements for conferences, but to establish the groundwork for building or maintaining the bridge of communication between the students’ caregivers and you as a representative of your school. Most conversations may last about 3 – 5 minutes, but some are shorter or a bit longer. Try not to have them be longer than 10 minutes, as you would most likely make these calls when your students are home or at work. If the conversation seems to get beyond this time frame, honor the caregiver’s response and invite them to discuss this further via in-person or by teleconferencing. Take notes as you are talking and highlight any action items needed based on the conversation.

  • Use specific examples to highlight points. This is particularly important when addressing a concern. Having concrete evidence you can refer to may help the caregiver to understand the rationale for the strategy as well as give them an opportunity to give insight on the situation.

  • Relax and enjoy the process. Whether you are on the phone, using video conferencing software, writing an email, or another creative way, make sure you have a positive attitude and have the energy to have several different conversations, as these intangibles are communicated through our speech and body language. This is a time to get to know your students’ families and to reach out to them in a positive way and building a bridge that will last throughout the year and potentially beyond. Remaining calm presents a professional tone as well as eases the fears of the families you are contacting.

May these tips give you the confidence you need to approach this task with gusto, as it is truly an art to making an effective, positive contact with families.  That is laying the foundation for a stronger bridge, which you'll use throughout the year to address areas of praise, need and concern.

Which one of these strategies do you think is the most beneficial? Are there any other suggestions that you found to be helpful?

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Personal Experiences, Special Education

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