Parents are the first teachers and are an important part of the home-school partnership. We need to work together and that means keeping parents informed about what’s happening and supporting them with their time at home.
Starting home-school partnership with the first day
Your first communication to the family should always be a positive one. Especially for the younger grades, parents are nervous and excited about this first day. I means so much to them when I call home on the first day of school to let them know what a great first day we had. This is such a powerful first step in starting a positive relationship with families. You should continue this relationship by not waiting for conferences to connect with families. If there is an issue, you should call them or schedule a meeting sooner, rather than later. Let them hear what you are noticing, share what they see at home, and then brainstorm ideas together on how to support the child. You can read more about parent-teacher conferences here.
I also love to start the year, at our curriculum night, by asking parents what their hopes and dreams are for their child (Pssst… it’s free!). We do this every year with our students, so why not with the parents? I absolutely love reading what the parents have to say. At the end of the year I send them home again.
You should have frequent communication with families about what is happening at school and you should use different mediums so that no matter the family’s communication preference, they will get the same information. I give all my students a designated folder for the year. One side is labeled “back to school” and one side is labeled “keep at home” so it is very clear what parents need to do with the papers.
I always do a simple one-page weekly newsletter that I print out and send home in folders. I tell parents what we learned that week and let them know about any upcoming important dates.
In the past I created a private instagram page and had parents request to follow it. On the page I posted photos and videos from the school week. It was an easy way to quickly share visuals from the classroom – and they say a picture is worth a thousand words! But I decided to stop using it – juggling 3 instagrams was hard!
I’ve used remind in the past to send parents quick texts about important notices – like pajama day is tomorrow! Or, don’t forget your library books today. I like that it translates the messages for the families. However, there were other apps that did both, so I ended up switching.
I liked the Class Dojo app because I could share photos and videos with the whole class or individually with parents. Also, I could message all the families at the same time with quick updates or individually with quick information, like, “your child forgot their lunch today so they bought lunch at school”.
However, I am really not a fan of Class Dojo’s behavior component. That being said, you can use the app without the behavior piece. I don’t believe in giving “points” for doing what is expected or taking away points for misbehaving. I don’t like that they compete with their peers for their points or that parents can see when their child earns or loses a point.
Ultimately, I will be using seesaw this year to communicate with my families. I love how students can take videos and pictures in the classroom, as well as complete activities, and that these can be shared with families. It gives families the best look into the classroom and their child’s progress than these other apps. Seesaw allows teachers to check over student work and approve it before it is shared with families.
It also lets families and teachers comment on this work. You can also create a seesaw blog so that families can see work from the whole class. You can also have individual conversations with families or send announcements to everyone. This app has everything that I looked for in a family communication tool and offered so much more for my students as a technology tool. Plus, they love using the iPads to record and share their learning with their families.
Book Buddy Bags
Another way that I connect the home-school partnership is through my book buddy bags. I send home a letter at the beginning of the year explaining that the bags are completely optional. They are a fun way to continue the learning at home. Students get their mystery book bag on Friday and are asked to return them on Monday or Tuesday. Inside are instructions, a few books to read as a family, and some accompanying activities. I’ve heard really positive things from my families – they really enjoy doing them together and they also like that if they have a really busy weekend and can’t get to it, it’s no big deal!
Every month I send home a bingo board for the month of fun ways that students can continue practicing their learning at home. I make sure that the activities are all things the family can do in their everyday lives. They don’t need to do anything extra or buy anything fancy. I also want them to see how much authentic learning can happen in their everyday lives! Sometimes families do it, and sometimes they don’t, but families really love having the option and seeing the ideas! Plus, it’s an important link for the home-school partnership, so parents know exactly what the children are learning in school and how to support them at home.
Before vacations I send home a quick little challenge for my families to keep learning at home. They range from a bingo board to an A to Z reading challenge! Again, this is completely optional for my families, and some never do them and some absolutely love them! You can read more about how I get ready for vacations here.
Home-School Guests and Volunteers
I make sure that my families know they are always invited into the classroom. At our back to school night, I invite families to sign up to share about a family tradition or holiday with the class. I also ask for volunteers to sign-up for making playdough for the class. It’s really helpful for the class, and parents love to contribute.
I also invite in families when we are learning about community helpers to share about their job. Finally, when a student is having a birthday, I like to have the parents come in and do an activity or read aloud to the class. I want my parents to feel this classroom as an open door, instead of a closed one with only a window to look in.
The home-school partnership is vital in educating the child. Teachers can, and should, use many different means to communicate with families and invite them in to the classroom, literally and digitally.