- To have meaningful school-family partnerships, education professionals should deliberately use proactive measures that go beyond one-way communications, said Merissa Waddey, a special education consultant for the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services.
- Waddey, speaking Monday at the Council for Exceptional Children's Special Education Convention & Expo in Orlando, Florida, recommended schools focus on six priority areas: trust and safety; clear, consistent communication; culturally responsive communication techniques; trauma-sensitive practices; restoring broken partnerships; and time for reflection.
- Waddey said school personnel should also remind themselves of why parent involvement in education is important: It's one of the strongest predictors of both academic achievement and reduced behavior problems. It's also required by certain federal education laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, she said.
During the pandemic, some educators and parents reported school-home connections got stronger as schools provided more outreach and services to help students and families with remote learning and created virtual opportunities to gather as a community.
But even as in-person learning and pre-pandemic routines rebound, families and educators are seeking to maintain those established relationships or to repair any relationships that have been fractured.
Teachers are sometimes not adequately prepared to foster positive parent partnerships and may need professional development and administrative support to do so, Waddey said.
"It's worth the investments," she said. "And once you've done this work early on, the rest just falls into place."
To build trust with families, educators should start the school year by sharing their optimism for the year ahead and their passion for teaching. Communications should be about positive news and educators welcoming parent input and working as partners, Waddey said.
Building trust also includes following up on parents’ questions or concerns. As a practical note, Waddey suggests setting reminders to respond to parents' questions if the answer isn't immediately available.
Sharing communication expectations, such as office hours or a timeline for expected responses, can help educators balance their work and personal lives while also helping parents know they were heard.
Being intentional about culturally responsive communication techniques is critical because, in many cases, students and families whose voices aren't heard are from underrepresented communities, such as those of color and those who are culturally and linguistically diverse, Waddey said.
If an interpreter is needed during conversations, the teacher should make eye contact with the family and not the interpreter. Rather than have the family's child serve as an interpreter, the family and teacher can use a translation app to communicate if a professional interpreter is unavailable, Waddey said.
Using inclusive language, such as "we" and "us" instead of "you" and "I," will emphasize the focus on the partnership, and teachers can explicitly state how important families' participation in their child's education is to the student's progress, she said.
Proactively restoring reluctant or strained school-home relationships is another priority area that will need attention. Aside from actively listening to complaints and empathizing with caregivers' feelings, teachers should refrain from getting defensive and should paraphrase parent concerns back to the parents, so parents know they were heard and understood correctly.
Educators also need to avoid accusatory language, such as, "Why doesn't your child do their homework?" Instead, the question could be, "What are the barriers to your child completing their homework?" Waddey said