If a child's teacher and parents have the same goal — to help the child succeed at school — then they are a TEAM that needs to communicate and cooperate with each other. After all, nothing exists in a vacuum. What affects the child at school will affect the child at home, and vice versa. The two-way school-home connection is the most important factor in the child's education.
Sometimes this connection is referred to as the "home-school connection." To me, it makes more sense the other way around, since this communication is starting with the teacher, at school. But it really doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that you establish the connection and keep it going.
Don't Forget to Write is a good book to get kids interested in letter writing.
The tool I use the most for the purpose of communicating with parents is the School-Home Connection Notebook, which is a powerful way for families to stay connected and bond over the schooling aspect of a child's life. It consists of a three-ring binder and page protectors. At the end of the school year, I ask one student if I can borrow their notebook to show the new kinders and their parents. At the beginning of the new school year, usually at Open House, I show parents the notebook as an example of what they will be doing and ask them to provide the materials. My first letter to them ( Download The School-Home Connection) explains the use of the notebook and the expectations I have for myself, the student, and the family with regard to maintaining it.
Because I include the students in this communication, I wait until about November, when they have practiced writing a little, to start the program. However, you can establish the school-home connection right away by encouraging parents to tell you anything they think you should know about their children. The more you know about each individual child, the better you can teach them, and the more they will feel that school and home are two sides of the same coin.
After I have started the notebook, every Thursday afternoon I write a detailed letter about what we did in the classroom that week, and what can be done at home to help the children learn. On Fridays during writing time, the students write their own letters. I talk with them about our week and ask them what they would like to share with their families. At first, I have to write this on the whiteboard for them to copy directly; later, they can write by themselves. They write to any family member they want and draw a picture to go with it. The notebooks go home with the students over the weekend and are expected back on Monday, with a letter written in response to the child from a family member. There can also be a letter for me, if there are any questions, concerns, or compliments. I explain to the students that writing back is their family's "homework."
This is where it gets tricky. You can't force families to write, and some don't. If this situation comes up, find out all you can about why the family isn't communicating. Often, it's either because a parent can't read or write English, or because they think their writing must be perfect to set a good example.
Be quick to point out that letters from the family do not have to be perfect. They do not even have to be in English. It's not a writing assignment; it's a communication tool. Any family member can write to the child, in any language, about anything. The point is to show the child that someone knows and cares about what is happening to them at school.
Ideally, your own communications with parents should be in their preferred language. Translate your written communications. Use an interpreter for oral communications, or learn a little bit of the language yourself. Also, let parents know about bilingual staff members and parents whom they can contact for support, as well as any language classes or programs they could take to improve their skills.
Be flexible in allowing other options for families. Non-English speakers can draw pictures for their children instead. Or they can do the best thing of all and just talk to their children about school, and then sign the notebook. Any communication is better than no communication.
When the notebooks are returned on time, I put a special sticker in the back. The students always want to return the notebooks because they want to collect as many stickers as they can. I store the notebooks in a crate. At the end of the school year, I add letters of my own, photographs of the kids taken throughout the year, a handwriting sample, and an "All About Me" book. Everything is in page protectors. Parent and student alike are appreciative of this special, permanent memory of the communication they shared during the child's first year of school.
It takes a lot of work to keep the school-home connection going. If you are using the same or a similar method, but don't specify a weekly commitment, it will not work. And you will want to make it work, because students look forward to hearing from their families, and parents love the connection. They love the letters and the beautiful artwork, as well as being able to help improve their children's handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary. They enjoy seeing how their child progresses throughout the year.
Overall, it's a positive way for parents to show their children they love them enough to care about what goes on at school. (But remember, if they don't write, that does not necessarily mean they don't care. Try to find out what the problem is, and help parents come up with a solution.)
Other ways you can communicate with parents include email, voice mail, parent mailboxes, "special delivery" mail tubes, newsletters, or a parent information board outside the classroom door. You could make a set of postcards, pre-addressed and stamped, that can be dropped right in the mail. The best thing you can do, if possible, is to have an open-door policy for parents, so that they can come in at any time during the school day to see what's happening in their child's classroom.
Always remember that you are on the same team as each student's family. Your goal is to work together in the best interests of the student. Since children are dependent on the adults in their lives — mainly their parents and teachers — their life experiences depend on how well they are understood and, then, on what is done to help them individually to succeed. How well they are understood depends on how well their parents and teachers communicate with them and with each other. The school-home connection is vital because school and home are two parts of a whole child.
How do you communicate with parents? Drop me a line.
Stay connected with your family this weekend!