It's already October, two months into the school year. My class is so special, I'm really beginning to get to know the children and their families. We're all getting into a comfortable working routine. Parents have gotten involved, and I feel like we're developing good relationships. But last year, it was such a struggle to keep the parents engaged. How can I keep families attentive and our communications open this year? –Ms. Johnson's journal entry, October
Communication between school and home is the very foundation of a program's success. At the beginning of each new school year, communication often goes smoothly. Occasionally, parents may resist your efforts, but you can still win their interest with determination and creativity. The challenge is to make sure that communication is ongoing and not just a beginning-of-the-year effort.
Maintain Your Momentum
No doubt your goal is a yearlong exchange with all the important adults in a child's family. This ongoing communication will benefit the child and family in several ways. It will:
- create feelings of acceptance and partnership
- create trust
- build confidence
- foster appreciation of teachers and caregivers
- lay the groundwork for resolving issues
When families are actively engaged in frequent conversations, it's much easier to talk about the ups and downs of the child's development. Parents need, and want, to feel part of their child's daily school lives. Even when they trust and value your teaching, they know they are missing things that happen each hour they are not there.
Investigate Contact Options
Positive, respectful listening and communication can draw families in. Communication can be verbal, in person, on the telephone, through the Internet, and via e-mail and voicemail. Because families are unique, each will have communication preferences. Ask them to tell you their favorite method. Be prepared for some to request e-mail or calls to their cell phones as well as personal discussions in the evenings. Remember, communication must be easy and effective for both parties. Don't feel you have to give up evenings with your own family to satisfy a parent.
Open Lines of Communication
To open communication lines, relationships must be:
Respectful, a process of listening as well as talking
Reciprocal, a give-and-take that includes all family members
Inclusive of all family needs (Spanish, Chinese, written, verbal)
Thoughtful, including detailed information about the child
Planned, so it doesn't get forgotten in our "hurried" world
During their first contacts with your program, tour parents through your center and talk about the importance of communication. Let families know that children need support from both home and school every day and that they will benefit from discussions between family members and teachers.
Create colorful and interesting parent boards for each classroom. Post articles, information about the class schedule, curriculum, and upcoming events. Highlight a family each week or each month, with pictures and a short narration describing family members and their hobbies.
Hold an orientation night. Discuss how children learn, along with your program goals and methods of providing and encouraging communication. Ask for their suggestions on how best to share information and chat about their child.
Inform families of your schedule. Suggest days and/or times in the week when you have time to talk. You may find that once families know your schedule, theirs will mesh nicely.
Keep It Going!
How can you preserve the climate of open dialogue and sharing you set early in the year?
Schedule an evening educational program. Ask a local guest speaker to discuss the importance of communication and how it benefits the child and the teachers.
Establish a parent committee. The first item on your agenda can be to improve and enhance communication (call it a Communication Committee or a Parent/Teacher Communication Team). Charge the members with brainstorming and recommending ideas to increase communication and make it more effective.
Create a family survey. Ask families what they think might draw them into the school more often and help them feel connected. Distribute the survey as they arrive at the end of the day (before parents get to their child's classroom). Add a cookie and a cup of punch and most will gladly fill it out right on the spot!
Distribute a family newsletter. Include interesting articles, information about each classroom, and upcoming school or community events. Highlight special achievements of a teacher, family member or a child. Sharing information about a teacher's educational and personal achievements will increase her credibility with families.
Sending notes home is a wonderful way of giving families insight into daily events. And make the notes child — specific. The best way to have time to keep these very personal and individual is to divide and conquer: Divide the number of children in the class by four or five days per week. Then write that many notes each day throughout the week. Some children will get a note home on Wednesday, some on Friday and others on Tuesday or Thursday. Parents who want a note usually don't care which day they receive it as long as it arrives on the same day each week.
Ask colleagues for ideas about how to maintain communication or attend workshops at your local AEYC conference. Communication is an issue discussed and presented frequently. Anyone talking about it may have a new idea you haven't thought of yet!
Ongoing family involvement is critical because the family is focused on their specific child while teachers must focus on the whole class. Family observations and sharing will help the teacher get to know the child and see the patterns of development both at home and at school.