By Dwaine Carr
It can be hard to ask for help. I myself have never been the type to like asking for help, especially from a stranger. But when COVID-19 became our reality and we connected with families to see what support they may need, I assumed they would tell us so that we could help. I was wrong.
I called families who told me they were doing fine, only to find out later that those same families had asked for support from my colleagues they knew well. In one instance, I reached out to a parent about gift cards we were distributing to help families buy groceries and essentials, but they did not answer my calls or return my messages. One of our Assistant Principals had a relationship with this family and introduced me, and the parent shared that they didn’t recognize my number or know who I was. In my assumption that they would accept our offer for help – no matter who the messenger was – I had failed to realize how a lack of relationship could prohibit our families from getting the support they needed.
Now, my team is working together to leverage our relationships in service of reaching ALL families. Our mental health staff contacted every family over three days to ensure that they connected with someone they knew at the school, like a behavioral specialist or social worker. For families who didn’t want to talk on the phone or listen to voicemails, we sent texts to communicate with them in their preferred way. We don’t rely on just an email or just a text blast – we lean into consistency and genuine connection through that individual touch.
Relationship building is never linear, but it doesn’t require a complex plan. You can build strong relationships by simply listening and being attentive, and by doing so in an ongoing way. Once you have that relationship, you have to put in the time to cultivate and maintain it. We must push past our assumptions to create meaningful connections so that all families have at least one “anchor” in the building – someone they can reach out to for support and who can supply that support from their school. In the same way we pour love into our students, we must do the same for our families.
Dwaine Carr is the Connected Schools Manager at Langley Elementary School in Washington, DC.