As a beginning teacher I knew that it was important to connect with parents and to build a positive relationship with them, but at times I wasn't sure how to do this. Within the first week of school I'd call all my student's parents or guardians, introduce myself, and share a little about what they could expect for their kids in my class that year.
In retrospect, I wish I'd asked more questions about their child and then listened more to what they had to say. After twenty years of experience and after sending my own child off to school, here are some questions I'd ask parents with the intention of building a partnership to support their child's learning.
1. What do you see as your child's greatest strengths or skills? Tell me about a time when you saw your child demonstrating these skills.
2. Next June, what do you hope your child says about his/her experience in school this year? What's the story you hope he/she would tell?
3. What was your experience like in this grade? How do you remember that year of school?
4. What are your fears or concerns about your child in this year of school?
5. How and when would you like me to be in touch with you this year? What do you hope I'd communicate with you about?
6. Is there anything else you can tell me about your child that you think would help me support his/her learning?
7. Is there a question you hope I'll ask you about your child?
While ideally teachers would be able to meet with every parent and have this kind of a conversation in person, I recognize that our schools are not aligned to this priority and we just don't have the time. I believe it's possible for teachers of self-contained classrooms to make phone calls to some 20-35 families -- and I know it's worth the effort. For middle and high school teachers, I wonder if these questions could be asked by phone over a period of time, or through email or paper surveys, or in some kind of innovative Back to School Night where parents shared their thoughts and feelings rather than teachers talking to parents.
I write this blog less from the stance of a teacher and more from my perspective as a mother. Although I have a great deal of experience in education, I still believe that my son's teacher will know him in ways that I may not, that his teacher will have expertise that I may not, and that I will need her and rely on her to help me son get the most out of his fifth-grade experience. I hope that she'll see me as a partner and I'm excited to meet her next month.
What ways do you partner with parents in the start of the year? What questions have you asked that you have found effective and beneficial? Please share in the comments section below.