S tudents win when relationships between families and teachers are built on trust, ongoing communication, and shared power. To partner with families, educators must first cultivate connections with them. No matter the format of schooling in your area, one thing is clear: building strong relationships with families at the beginning of the year is more critical than ever.
Today, there are many ways to welcome families to your classroom! FaceTime, Zoom, Google hangouts, and traditional phone calls are all options for doing a Welcome Call. In the Supporting Materials, you’ll find example Questions for Trust Building and a Planning Tool.
Strategies for Welcome Calls
- Challenge assumptions. Research has shown that one of the most significant barriers to effective family engagement is deficit-based views about families, particularly when working across lines of racial or economic differences. During times of stress and trauma, our implicit biases can drive our actions. Consider using the Challenging Assumptions Reflection Tool in the Supporting Materials to examine and interrupt your assumptions.
- Include your colleagues. Keep other colleagues who work with your students in the loop, such as a special educator or ELL teacher, support staff, or educators in your department—plan for how you will support others to connect with families during or after your conversation. Connect with partners ahead of your Welcome Call to consider how they – or their questions or wonderings – might be included.
- Consider families’ preferences. Welcome Calls can take place as traditional phone calls or over a video platform such as Teams, Zoom, or Facetime. Welcome Calls should be scheduled in advance at a time that is convenient for the family. Texting or emailing families is an excellent way to organize Welcome Calls.
- Prepare. Families will have questions, so make sure you take a few minutes to review any recent updates or information from your school or district that families might wonder. Educators will not have all the answers, and that is okay! Your job is not to fix everything, but to help alleviate concerns, share what you can, and communicate when and how you will follow up to get them the information they need. Use the Planning Tool in the Supporting Materials.
- Remove distractions – as much as possible. To be able to do everything else listed here effectively, you will need to make sure you are in a space and place where you can actively listen and focus on this conversation.
- Share yourself authentically. Share who you are with the family, such as your background, interests, what you love about teaching, and what excites you about the new school year.
- Listen. Ask families to share about themselves and their student(s). See Trust Building Questions in the Supporting Materials!
- Provide answers as you can. Preparing beforehand can help, but it’s important to be honest when you do not know an answer.
- Ask and share hopes and dreams. This is a critical part of a relationship building conversation with students and families, and signals you genuinely care about what they want for their child — now and in the future.
- Invite families to stay connected. Think about the cadence of your communication moving forward. Should the family expect a weekly call from you? A text? Ask what works best for them. Make a note of their communication preferences and share how they can stay connected.
- Include the student. This is especially important for secondary students. Allowing students to share in trust-building conversations with their families will signal aligned partnership and teamwork on their behalf.
- Follow-up on next steps. Doing what you say you are going to do is critical for quickly establishing trust.
- Share insights with your team. This is critical for departmentalized grades and for students who work with other staff in your building. Share insights to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Keep lines of communication open. A strong welcome call or video conference will start the process of building a trusting relationship, but this work takes time. Relationships grow through frequent and informal conversation, so keep in touch and stay connected with families on a regular basis.
As students grow, it becomes increasingly important for families and educators to coach students to take on more responsibility for their success. Including students in your Welcome Calls can start the year off on the right foot! Anything you ask the adults, also ask the student including their hopes and dreams, expectations for the year, and areas of interest and concern.