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NYC Helpline: How To: Get Started
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NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom
NYC Helpline: How To Get Started

Some Positive Steps to Starting the Year with Families
Judi Fenton

It is said that there are no magic bullets in education and of course that’s true, but there are definitely some sure-fire ways to start off the year letting families know that you want to develop a positive relationship with them.

Send home a welcome letter the first day of school or before.
Parents want to feel welcomed into your classroom. They want to know that you are excited about working with them throughout the coming year. Let them know that you are pleased to have their children in your class and that you are looking forward to getting to know them. Tell them that you want to work closely with them to do what it takes to support their son or daughter.

Provide your policies for students in writing.
Parents want to know what’s going on in the classroom and what you expect from their children. You should provide information about your classroom management issues (such as arrival and dismissal procedures, bathroom policy, discipline approach, etc.) as well as academic procedures (what are your grading policies, hand-written or typed work, penalties for late work, etc.). Usually, when you are up front about these expectations, most parents will back you up when a problem arises.

Ask parents to fill out a short survey about their child’s interests and learning needs.
Parents know their children best and we can learn a lot when we listen to what they have to say. Ask about what the student likes to do outside of school, how he has previously felt about school, and how the parent would like to be involved. I always liked to know who lived in the home so that I would know the people the student spoke and wrote about. Finish your survey with an open ended question such as, “Is there anything else you would like me to know?” This often yields helpful information that might not emerge from previous questions.

Provide your policies about parent involvement in writing.
Parents need to know what you expectations from them. Do you expect them to assist with homework, or should students do it on their own? Can parents send in cupcakes to celebrate birthdays or is that prohibited? Do you ever expect families to attend special events in the classroom? Do you have an open door for parents to come in whenever they want to or do they need to make an appointment? When are you available to meet? How often will you notify them about their child’s progress? How can they ask you questions about the work you assign?

Give a phone number or e-mail so that parents can reach you directly.
As a parent, this is one of the most important aspects of my involvement. I work long hours and cannot drop off or pick up my daughters. I rarely get to have face-to-face contact with their teachers. I need to know that I can communicate with them easily on-line or through a quick phone call when I need to tell them that we’re picking one of the girls up early, or that we have a question about the homework, or that she’s sick with the flu, or that a family member died so she’s sad. It enables me to be involved and support my daughters. It also helps me to develop relationships with their teachers.

As a teacher, I know that it is much less scary to reach out to parents who I already have an e-mail or phone relationship with when there’s an issue we need to discuss. I know that many teachers do not like to give out personal information to families, but each year we do all we can to ensure that parents provide accurate contact information so that we are able to reach them, don’t we owe them the same courtesy?  You definitely can, and should, set some limits about phone calls—I always ask for no calls after 9:00pm.

Invite parents to come in to meet you early on.
It’s great if your school has a Meet the Teacher Night in September, but if the school doesn’t sponsor one, invite parents in for breakfast to meet you or stay for an hour after school for parents to come in. Talk about your life and get to know about theirs. It’s all about relationships, and meeting face to face over coffee and doughnuts is a good way to start building them!

Setting up these items will make parents feel welcome and show that you appreciate their expertise about their child. The steps can facilitate two-way communication and help you to start the year off nurturing positive relationships with the parents of your students. Good luck!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me.


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