Relationships are at the heart of family engagement. Educators and leaders must establish trust with families first, and sustain that trust through consistent, meaningful communication and a sharing of power. As schools navigate changes brought about by COVID-19, building relationships with families is more important than ever.
Pairing up for your beginning of the year relationship building can provide value to both the family and you! There are many reasons to partner up, such as:
- A family might already have a strong relationship with another staff member. A familiar voice or face on the initial call can work to establish trust.
- You have a co-teacher or aide with whom the family should also have a relationship.
- The student receives additional supports or services at the school, such as through an IEP, so it makes sense to include the Special Education or ELL teacher.
No matter the reason, employing this strategy can benefit everyone involved – especially the student and family! In the Supporting Materials, you’ll find example Questions for Trust Building to use in Partnered Communications.
School Partnership in Action
“With [my child] particularly, it definitely takes a village to help her along. That’s what I find at [her school], from the teachers, to … the aides, even the older students. Everybody’s engaged, and it seems like everyone is pressing for the same goal. They want to learn together, they want a safe, healthy, environment together, they want strong support socially, emotionally.”
Washington, DC Parent
Tips for Getting Started
|Pick the right partner.
It may be a special educator or ELL teacher. Other potential options for a great Partnered Communication include front office staff, a dean, an aide, or a specials teacher. Think about who the most beneficial person for the family and student to have a relationship with is, or who is best suited to help you build a relationship with the family and student. It can help to connect with the teachers or advisors your students had in previous years to hear about who already has a relationship with the family.
|Plan the conversation.
Since there will be two of you leading, it’s important to discuss ahead of time who will lead what and any specific roles each person should play. Use the Welcome Call Planning Tool in the Appendix.
If your partner has an existing relationship with the family, they can set up the time to talk. Share the purpose of the conversation and ask the family for their preference of the day, time, and mode of communication. During the conversation, use the Questions for Trust Building as a starting place.
|Follow the family’s lead.
While this strategy might work for some families and educators, it might not work for all. Be flexible and responsive to the family’s willingness and ability to engage in these conversations.
As families and educators alike face the intersecting crises of racism, COVID-19, and the economic downturn, a key part of establishing trusting relationships with families is listening deeply and with empathy. As families share what’s working for them and what’s failing them, educators should open themselves to families’ lived experiences with compassion.