Working with Families

Classroom Events

The importance of family in a student’s learning life is clear. As is the importance of a child’s teacher. Bringing the two together, with the child, in their classroom builds a strong bond and supports learning both at home and at school.

Each month I try to host an event for my students’ families in our classroom. I believe it is a critical way to build a strong partnership between the family and the teacher. Spending time in the child’s classroom with the child’s teacher, the place where and person with whom the child spends so many hours, gives families an important insight. The only better way for families to understand their child’s day would be to come with him or her to school! Such events also offer the teacher the opportunity to learn from the families because the setting is more informal and intimate than school-wide events. A true partnership involves learning and teaching on both sides.

A good friend and amazing teacher has been doing the same thing for many of the same reasons in her third grade classroom. We are presenting on the idea at NCTE and VASCD soon.

In addition, I did an Ignite-style presentation at Educon on this topic. Enjoy the slides!

Resources and Research

 Setting the Stage: The Family Engagement Field (pdf) from Flamboyan Foundation
This is a one page overview of the research on family engagement. There is a second page with the bibliography.

Families as Lifelong Educators (pdf) from The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement
This is a summary of research and strategies focused on Head Start and Early Head Start. Check out the last paragraph of page two.

Parents who have positive relationships with their children’s teachers, and spend time in their children’s childcare, preschool, or school environment, advance their children’s school success in many ways. Their involvement improves academic outcomes, for example, by increasing children’s rates of retention in classrooms, cutting time spent in special education classrooms, and boosting graduation rates (McWayne et al., 2004). The children of involved parents are also less likely to be anxious, depressed, defiant, and aggressive (Yeboah, 2002).

Teaching Future Educators and Families: Helping Maximize Children’s Learning from Harvard Family Research Project 
A brief article about a college professor sharing her efforts at family engagement as a teacher and how she prepares preservice teachers to engage families.

Partners in Education A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships
A report detailing a framework for creating opportunities to support both families and teachers for the benefits of students.

Tips for Hosting a Family Night

Helpful Advice for Hosting Classroom Family Events

§ Choose days and times that work with the various schedules of family members. If you’re not sure, ask! You can host each event on a different night or vary your events between daytime and evening time to accommodate everyone. Remember, not everyone will be able to come every time but if you choose a variety of times, they will eventually be able to come!

§ On a related note, design your family nights based on what your families want! You can survey parents at Back to School Night or send home a questionnaire. Do families say they are confused about the math curriculum? Host a math game night. Does technology make them nervous? Design an event where students and their families blog and create digital stories together. As long as students and their families are in your classroom together, the topic is open!

§ Get students involved. This not only makes it easier for you but leads to higher participation rates. When students take ownership of the process, they will push their families to come to the event! Students can create written or digital invitations and programs, serve as hosts at different tables during the events, be in charge of taking pictures, survey family members as they participate and on their way out and more.

§ While you’re at it, get families involved. After the first couple of events, families will have an idea of what to expect and can pitch in and take ownership. Remember, the events are a collaboration between home and school and what better way to collaborate than to co-plan with families. Families can offer to set up or clean up, pick up other families and give them a ride, bring snacks, call other families to remind them and more! When families take ownership, they are more likely to join you again!

§ In fact, get everyone involved. Work with members of the school and local community. While the focus is on families being in your classroom, you can still obtain a wealth of resources from others. Your librarian might come and give a short talk or sign families up for library cards. A local restaurant might donate snacks. Another teacher might come to help support families.

§ We all love to eat and night time events often mean we are cutting right into dinner time. While you don’t need food to make your event successful, offering healthy snacks such as string cheese, fruit, granola bars and carrot sticks helps families feel more relaxed and allows them to stay at your event for a while longer because their child isn’t complaining that they are starving.

§ After your event, gather some feedback so you can think about how to improve your next event. You can use a written or digital survey, ask families at your next conference, collect anecdotal comments from students about new ideas they are implementing at home or even call families and chat with them. And, of course, listen to the feedback. Can you change the time or day? Did families need more advance notice? Did they want more take home resources? Whatever it is, try to incorporate the feedback into your next event so families know you value their opinion.

Using Technology to Build Bridges with Families

Technology offers many opportunities for communicating and sharing with families.
This can be a one-way street down which you push things to families. Remind 101 is one tool that works this way and is handy. Delicious (while nowhere near as good as it used to be) is a handy way to share resources and offer families places to look for ways to help their children.

This can also be a two-way street, allowing families to be an active part. Our class blog is one easy way to do this. Families can take a look at our posts and all we share, but they can leave comments and engage with us if they wish. We also use VoiceThread to share our learning and thinking and families can participate in those as well.

Team Up with Families: Using Technology to Build Bridges from Jennifer Orr


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