As the beginning of the school year starts, there are so many important things teachers prepare for: setting up an inviting environment, preparing lesson plans for the first few weeks of school, building routines with co-teachers, finalizing rosters, and of course, getting ready to meet our new students for the first time. In early education, meeting our students for the first time often starts with meeting their families. In this post, we discuss some strategies to help you think through the first interactions with families.
Prior to your conversation, you want to know your goals for the conversation. Use those goals to determine what key questions you will want to ask families. This might include logistical questions such as:
- What are the typical plans for pickup and drop-off?
- Does your child have any siblings that attend the same school?
- Does your child have any allergies or dietary restrictions?
These logistical questions are important for the safety and security of your students and can be important to track and document during your first conversation with families. While logistical questions are important, this interaction is also a valuable opportunity to learn about and leverage families’ expertise about their child. Some of these questions might include:
- What are your child’s interests?
- What games does your child like to play at home?
- What are your hopes for your child’s school year?
Building authentic relationships means you are equally open and willing to share about yourself. So, after thinking deeply about what you want and need to know about children and families, consider what your families might need and want to know about you. Examples of information families might want to know could include:
- Logistical information, such as the best way to reach you or communication frequency they can expect
- Personal details, such as your cultural background, where you grew up, or what you love about being an educator
- Further details about your own interests
First interactions with families can occur in different settings: in the classroom, in a family’s home, over the phone, virtually, or even in a park or on a playground. This plan should be clearly defined and communicated with families. For example, if you’re planning to call each family individually before the first day of school, let families know when they can expect a call, what number you’ll call from, and the purpose of the call. Or perhaps there will be an open house within the first month of school that you would want to use more strategically as an opportunity to learn more about your families and share more about yourself. You can reduce any potential anxiety from families if you clearly define what they can expect from the first interaction before it happens.
Meet Families Where They Are
Remember that families will respond and approach these conversations in a variety of different ways. We know that this past year has been filled with emotional and physical ups and downs for many families and there may be more anxiety and nervousness this year than perhaps ever before. And families’ own experiences with school, either positive or negative, may influence their feelings about the start of their child’s school journey. Think about how you can set up a welcoming environment to meet families for the first time and support families who may be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety. And consider what changes to your typical communication routines you might need to make to support families with this transition back to school, once children arrive in the building.
Reflecting on Takeaways
Once you’ve connected with as many families as possible, take a deep breath, and reflect. It is likely you’ve taken in a lot of information over the past few days or weeks, both about students and their families. Take some time to process and write down how you can apply all that you’ve learned to best support your students. For example:
- How can you incorporate what you’ve learned about children’s interests or cultures into the learning environment?
- How will you adapt your classroom routines?
- What modifications might you make to the first learning activities you’ve been planning?
Finally, recognize that a successful year is going to involve maintaining the relationships that you have begun to develop with families. Create a concrete plan for when and how you will follow up with families again. Perhaps you have shared with families what you will be working on in the first few days of school. Consider how you will communicate and share what that looked like with them. Whatever works best for you, make sure that you have created a structure for ongoing communication and relationship building.
Our relationships with our families are critical to a successful year but more importantly, are the only way we will truly get to know our students. We have to see our families as not just an extension of our students but as a part of them. The beginning (and honestly, middle and end) of the year are busy and can be stressful, but the more we invest in building and maintaining strong relationships with families, the better we can support our children’s development.
About the Author
Kourtney Hallice is a former Inclusion Kindergarten Teacher in the Boston Public Schools. She served as an AmeriCorps member for different Education organizations such as Jumpstart and the Boston Teacher Residency. She continues to be an advocate for early education and is now a School Ambassador at Kaymbu.