How to Build Relationships with Families and Create Continuity Between Home and School
By Katy Lernihan
Throughout my career, I’ve often heard teachers and administrators discuss the struggle to effectively engage parents and families. Teachers know the importance of creating consistency between home and school and parents often have a lot on their plates in raising a child with a disability. A student’s educational team should make family engagement a primary focus when developing and implementing a student’s IEP. For children with disabilities, making expectations and routines clear and consistent at home and school promotes success.
Being engaged in student learning goes beyond participating in the development of the student education program. It takes applying planned learning approaches, interventions and accommodations across all settings, including learning opportunities outside of school. Easier said than done, I know.
What does family engagement in a child’s learning look like? Here are some key things I’ve found effective in getting parents involved and briding the gap between home and school.
How to engage parents in student learning
1. Build Rapport—Communication is the key to collaboration, which is the key to consistency. In this era of technology, here are multiple modes of communication available. Many of these are designed for daily communication and sharing of information.
Here at Rethink, we have features that allow for parents to actively review their student’s progress just by logging on to our website, at their convenience. With much the world dependent on cell phones for information, many educators have begun using cellular texting platforms to keep parents engaged. This allows educators and parents to have a direct line of communication without having to dig through a messy backpack for a note.
Check out this recent blog post for tips on using technology to engage parents.
2. Teach both students and parents— As educators, we are constantly being asked to attend Professional Development sessions. Why not take the time to share some of those resources with parents? Set up opportunities for parents from the Special Ed population to have hands-on instruction through a workshop, mini training event, or back-to-school night. This will not only provide resourceful information for parents to take home, it will help build relationships!
3. Personalize Communication – The good ol’ classroom newsletter. We have all done it, and it can be valuable! However, supplementing classroom wide communication with frequent, personalized communication can make all the difference in the world. Recently, Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University and Todd Rogers of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government completed a study focused on low cost, school improvement strategies. The study took a group of 435 high school students who were enrolled in a summer credit recovery program for failing students in a large urban school district. The study concluded that parents who received weekly, personalized messages citing what the student needed to improve upon were 41 percent less likely to fail the course compared to the control group.
4. Focus on the positive— We all need a little positive reinforcement to keep us motivated. This can be true for parents as well. Instead of calling when a student has had a bad day, give them a call when their child has done something fantastic! This keeps parents focused on what is going well in the classroom rather than the problems. You don’t want parents to think that every time the school’s name comes across their caller ID that something bad has happened. You can help families and students create positive associations with school.
5. Create a community—Last, but not least, create a community for your students’ parents and families. The first school I taught at scheduled monthly coffee socials for parents and teachers. This allowed for parents to gather in our school as a community, and support one another. If you feel like you are on your own island try to schedule a small gathering for the parents in your classroom or in the special education department. Shared experiences are the basis of relationships. Together, you and your students’ families can create impactful support networks for your students that can lead to positive outcomes in school and later on in life!