Invest students' families and influencers [I-6]

To build strong relationships with influencers:

What are some effective strategies?

Communicate often

Get face time

Invite participation

Who are potential influencers?

  • Parents/guardians
  • Siblings
  • Other relatives
  • Coaches
  • Extra-curricular activity leaders
  • Religious leaders
  • Other community leaders
  • Peers

Illustrations are grouped by the proficiency that they best bring to life.

We would like to communicate our deep appreciation to these teachers who are allowing us to learn from their experiences.

Explanation

Sometimes parents/influencers are not as responsive to our initial outreach as we might have hoped, and this can diminish our sense of possibility around influencer involvement. Partnerships between teachers and students’ families have the potential to greatly impact student achievement; but they take time to develop (and require skills you will have to cultivate). Finding effective ways to work with families can be challenging, so we can sometimes edge toward blaming families for a lack of support without consistently reaching out to them, or without an understanding of the forces competing for their time and energy.

Solution

Be persistent. Recognize the following challenges some families face:

  • language or cultural barriers
  • hindered transportation access to school
  • potential unstable/inconsistent housing situations that complicate providing contact information to the teacher
  • past experiences that may have tarnished their impression of the school or their own negative experience as students
  • competing priorities – work, other children, or other responsibilities
  • feeling alienated from school because they do not expect their contributions to be valued or are unsure of their ability to live up to the teacher’s expectations

Maintain your initial positive beliefs about families' abilities to contribute. It is vitally important to get to know and understand families as individuals and to shape our communication approaches to working with families in ways that meet their diverse needs. Recognize extenuating circumstances (see bullets above) while working to alleviate potential hurdles. Keep trying different methods, learn what works and what doesn't work for your students’ parents, talk to other teachers to learn what strategies have worked with them, and consult our strategies pages for concrete ideas. Remember that except in the rarest and saddest of circumstances, families want the best for their children.

Explanation

We can sometimes fall into the trap of looking at families as just one more responsibility to tend to, without recognizing the important assets they potentially offer. Many people also incorrectly assume that poorer populations are less interested or less capable of assisting their children with schoolwork. All families have something to contribute, no matter what their life circumstances.

Solution

Families have the potential to considerably enrich your classroom. Working class parents often have hands-on jobs that result in a deep understanding of their specialty area. For example, those working in landscaping often have in-depth knowledge about horticulture or agriculture that can greatly enhance a science lesson. Immigrants can lecture about different cultural traditions, foods, music, etc. from their homeland. Tap into the authentic knowledge your families can bring into your classroom.

Explanation

We do not suggest that you should involve students' influencers as a kindness; you should involve student influencers because study after study clearly demonstrates that student learning improves when families are actively engaged in the process. Investing parents is not a favor or an option; it’s part of your job.

Solution

Involving parents takes time and perseverance, but there are many payoffs. Teachers and their students’ families need to collaborate to improve student achievement and school performance. Teachers’ attitudes toward parents and their efforts to involve parents are critical to good parent-teacher relationships and student achievement. By creating a climate for collaboration with parents, teachers can influence student learning at home as well as in the classroom. Teachers can set up the expectation that parental involvement is welcome and necessary.

Explanation

A common error we often make is to assume that parents are always those with the most influence over a child. In many instances, this will obviously be the case; but for some students, individuals other than their parents have a greater influence on them.

Solution

Be open to the notion of an expansive definition of “family.” Many students will have a variety of family (or non-family members) who influence their lives, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, friends, coaches, pastors, etc. Reach beyond family whenever necessary. The important question to ask is not, “How is this person related to my student?”, but rather, “Is this person in a position to help my student?”

Explanation

Given the many competing demands on teachers, some of us understandably forget to contact families until something goes wrong (behaviorally or academically). But if we fall into such a pattern, we miss opportunities to enlist parents/influencers as powerful positive reinforcers of desired effort and behavior—and both students and parents/influencers may become wary of a note or call from the teacher.

Solution

It will be much easier for parents to hear upsetting news if they: 1) already have an established (ideally trusting) relationship with you, and 2) also get to hear periodic good news about their child. Sending home words of praise and encouragement (about admirable effort, and academic growth) can change this perception and improve communication with the family. (Remember, parents need a pat on the back too!)

Explanation

You may well need to develop a variety of customized communication methods to ensure your ability to reach everyone. You will probably rely on different methods for different students, either due to logistical concerns, or due to the nature of the information you need to share. Families themselves may express distinct preferences about how they wish to be contacted. Whenever possible, respect these preferences. Try alternative methods to follow-up with hard-to-reach families.

Solution

Create “family profiles” to track communication efforts. Record the best method and time for reaching family members, the name of the family member with whom you usually speak, any specific notes from conversations you may have had, and the dates and relevant details of any conversations you have had with specific family members, etc. This could be easily done with a spiral notebook, with a different page designated for each student.



Example

Sensitivity to foreign language speakers

Explanation

One-time or one-way communication methods are insufficient (like a one-time newsletter or introductory letter). Since many of us may have had teachers whose only contact with our families came in the form of report card distribution, it is natural for us to do a good job of “informing” while not putting much energy into “involving” and “investing”—but this likely limits the effectiveness of our parent/influencer outreach. Our responsibility to families goes beyond simply passing on information.

Solution

Always respect—and take advantage of—the role that parents can, and should play. For ideas on how to involve and invest your students’ families, engage the material throughout these pages, and follow the concrete strategies we outline (for example, homework folders with a place for notes from families, family feedback forms and surveys, and phone calls are some of the many methods available for enabling reliable two-way communication):

Engage, respond to, and interact with your students’ families as the unique individuals they are. But remember, the relationship must work two ways; parents can’t be expected to endlessly support your preferences, if you aren’t willing to address theirs.