When you start a new school year, you aren’t just getting a classroom full of new students, you’re also getting a whole new group of adults–parents, grandparents, guardians, aunts, and uncles. Because your students’ families are an integral part of your students’ academic success and emotional growth over the course of the year, it’s important that you make meaningful relationships with those families. Open, honest communication with your students’ families can help everyone feel connected to, invested in, and valued by the school.
How can you create a foundation for strong communication all year long? It starts with the first family call.
Starting the School Year Off Right
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably received a call from your child’s school at some point. How did you feel when you picked up and knew it was the school? Were you nervous? Were you anticipating bad news? Unfortunately, for many families, the only time they hear from their students’ school is when something is wrong. But, what if we changed that?
As a middle school teacher, my principal told me to make the first phone call before I needed to. He meant, don’t wait until there is an issue you need to address. For me, this meant taking the time at the beginning of the school year to call every single one of my students’ families. This was no easy task! We know there is so much on your plate, especially as you are getting settled into the new school year, but setting aside the time for these calls will pay dividends all year long.
I kept my calls short and focused on introducing myself as their student’s math teacher. I offered to answer any questions they had, and told them to save my contact information for any future concerns. Many families I spoke to were surprised by my call just to introduce myself, but they greatly appreciated it. It showed my students’ families that I recognized them for the valuable impact they have on their child’s academic growth.
Once the school year got going, there were times I did need to reach out and discuss a behavior or academic concern. These calls–which are honestly never enjoyable for anyone–were made so much easier by the simple fact that these families already knew who I was and knew that I had their students’ best interests in mind.
Make the Most of Your First Family Calls
When you reach out for the first time, it’s important to keep the conversation focused on the basics. Even if you are already worried about a student’s behavior, don’t bring it up yet! The first call should only be about setting the foundation for open communication throughout the year. The earlier you can get in touch with each family, the better.
Besides introducing yourself, ask family members how they prefer to be contacted. I had some families who wanted phone calls and some who preferred texts. This is also an important time to see if you are going to need any support communicating with the family. I had a number of Spanish speaking families that I needed to call using a translator or send translated text messages.
The first call can also be a time to share any relevant information about your classroom. Families may be interested in what topics students will cover in math or the texts their students will be reading for ELA. Because Fishtank Learning is an Open Educational Resource, families have the option to visit the Fishtank website and take a look at the content their students will be working on. If they would like to create their own account on the website, they can explore the resources more deeply to support their students at home.
Beyond your classroom, you can also share any relevant information about upcoming school events and activities. For example, if there is a back to school night coming up, make sure to proactively invite families and encourage them to come to the school. The more you show families that they are welcome and wanted in the school community, the better.
Keeping Families Connected
It's important to keep up with your family communication throughout the school year. To help me ensure I continued to call families with either positive news or just to check in, I set a goal of making at least 3 positive calls a week. I would take these opportunities to celebrate a student’s growth, academic risk taking, or acts of kindness. These calls, even though they were another thing on my to-do list, always made me smile and were a bright spot of my day.
Another way to keep families connected is through providing academic resources and opportunities for them to support their students’ learning at home. Fishtank Math’s Family Guides, available with a Fishtank Plus account, are a perfect resource to send home with students and then follow-up about during a phone call. The guides include a Connections at Home section that includes ideas for how families can make connections to everyday life using ideas from each unit.
Download a Sample Family Guide
By providing resources that actively encourage families to participate in learning at home, you remind families of the important role they play, and, because you’ve established strong communication with families, they will feel comfortable reaching out if they or their students need more support.
Even though creating and maintaining meaningful connections with your students’ families may feel like a lot of work at the beginning, it will not only make the rest of the year so much easier and more enjoyable, but will provide more comprehensive support, which students need and deserve.
Want more ideas to set your students up for success this school year? Dive into the Fishtank Blog to find strategies for engaging every student, guidance on using Fishtank resources, and the latest on what works in the classroom. Create your free Fishtank Learning account today to access thousands of free, standards-aligned, lesson plans in ELA and Math.
Rachel Fuhrman is the Curriculum Marketing Manager at Fishtank Learning. Before joining Fishtank Learning, Rachel spent 5 years as a Middle School Special Education Teacher in New Orleans, LA and Harlem, NY. Outside of the classroom, she has been a frequent contributor to multiple education blogs and focuses primarily on student engagement and instructional practice topics. Rachel earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and her Master of Science in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
Related Blog Posts
Fishtank School Spotlight: New Heights Middle School
New Heights Middle School has been expanding their implementation of Fishtank ELA and Math over the past three school years. In this spotlight, they share the impact Fishtank has had on students and teachers alike.