So this post is one day off of my regularly scheduled posting day. I guess I should mention that I was at my school until 8:00 pm last night finishing up last minute organizing for the first day of school. Yea, I am crazy, and my husband was maaaadddd. LOL! But he’s fine now. LOL!
As I ventured off to work this morning, my mind raced a mile a minute about everything. Have all the families and students received the letters I mailed last week? How many letters will I receive back from families with “Positive Thoughts on Their Child?” What will this year’s group of students be like? Will all of my students be in class today? Did they all have great summers? Do I have everything I want to do today copied and organized? Will my promethean board work so I can display my PowerPoint Presentation? Do I have enough time to complete everything? Why is lunch at 1:25pm? I am going to be starving. Will the busses be on time? Will I have enough time to hit the gym or read the final chapter of Awakened today? Will I fall down the stairs in my heels? I mean everything was on my mind! Can you relate?
In this post, I want to share some tips on what I feel is one of the most important things any and every teacher should do to have a successful year. Yes, the answer is build strong and real relationships. I personally feel that relationships are the foundation to a peaceful and successful school year academically and emotionally (for some kids, physically as well. We all know a student that has been or can be physically aggressive or violent towards his or her peers and or teachers and other staff).
I do many things to build relationships with my incoming students and their families. Caution: The only year in which these tips did not work in my favor is when my roster was drastically changed after I had already mailed the letters. Gasp! So please be 100% sure that the class roster you receive is the final one. I send my letters out later and later each year to ensure students were not swapped around unbeknownst to me.
So here they are:
- Reach out to your students and their families before the school year starts.
Before the students arrive at school or even attend Back to School Night, I type a letter to ALL students and ALL of their families. The letter introduces them to me and some things they can expect throughout the year. I do not discuss academics or behavior specifically, and this is on purpose. My purpose is to inform families I am qualified to teach their child, to put their minds at ease, and build positive relationships that leads to open and honest communication. In the letter, I also take the opportunity to provide my e-mail address for them to communicate with me, and to share some positive thoughts with me about their child. I have a copy of one of the letters below. In addition to a letter from me, my incoming students receive a letter from a previous student I had the year before. At the end of each school year, I have my students write letters to my incoming 5th graders. The kids really love this especially if it’s from someone they know. Most families really appreciate receiving a personal letter from their child’s new teacher. (Yes, I bought all the stamps. I bought 90 this year as I wrote letters for both sets of students and families I will teach this year. This is the first time I have done this. I’m curious to see what happens. My relationship is typically stronger with my homeroom. I don’t necessarily like that, so I suppose it was time for a change. I predict relationships will be equally as strong this year.) I will be adding a template of my letter to TeachersPayTeachers for free this weekend so please pin this post so you can return to it later at your convenience.
- If you do not live in the community in which you are employed, make it a priority to have a presence there when you can.
I reside 30-40 minutes from where I work depending on the day. It can be hassle at times, and maybe even annoying, but I do work with people that have even longer commutes. Because I live pretty far, I am not often seen in the community so I do have to make it a priority to be there so that I can see the world in which my students live. Some things that I do to have presence is shop in the area at the grocery store, coffee shop, nail salon, etc. I also visit the library which is about 5 minutes from my school building. Additionally, I volunteer for different events over the summer. This summer I volunteered to help distribute books to local families in their neighborhoods at multiple pre-designated stops. I also volunteered at a local annual festivity with teachers and administrators in my school district to share out information about our schools.
I have to admit I did receive comp time for doing this, but I would have been there with or without the comp time because it’s an opportunity for me to meet with upcoming students and their families and to reminisce with previous students.
Being visible in the community in which you work shows that you care about where your students come from. It also helps to break down walls with families because they get to see you outside of your profession. When this happens, you are more personable to them. I have walked into Wal-Mart looking like a homeless person before only to see one of my student’s parents working the register. While I was slightly embarrassed for the parent to see this way, I thought of it as an opportunity for her to see me as a human being and not only as her daughter’s teacher. This was about 6 years ago. The young lady has since recently graduated high school this past year. She and her mother invited me to her graduation. I taught her in 5th grade. Yes, I attended. I think that says something about relationships.
- Attend Back to School Night or Open House.
Our Back to School Night was this past Monday from about 5:00pm to 6:00pm. Almost all of the teachers in my building attended (as far as I know, all of them were there). I work with an amazing group of committed and dedicated teachers who all want to teach and make a difference in the lives of our students. I must say that I am blessed to have some great co-worker/friends! But these back to school nights give us teachers opportunities to meet with families and mingle. It gives the families an opportunity to visit your classrooms to see what’s inside and how things are organized. I am sure that it eases the nerves of many of the incoming students and parents alike.
- Have lunch with your students.
This tip is a bitter-sweet one. While I enjoy getting to interact with my students in a more personal setting (less academic), I do not like giving up the adult time I get with my co-workers or the alone time when I choose to have lunch by myself. However the benefit of spending this time with my students almost once every week far out-weighs the small amount of time I miss with my co-workers once per week. (Sorry! I still love you all!) Here is why – I learn things about my students I never would have known had not sat down and eaten lunch with them. I get to learn about their interests, likes, dislikes, problems, etc. We have real conversations about real-life things. We also have fun! Last year, my students loved music and dancing. All they wanted to do at lunch was dance. So all I did was put on clean Youtube videos for them to sing and dance to. And guess what? I sang and dance too. I learned all the latest dance steps, songs, memes, vines, etc. They kept me youthful so to speak. LOL!
- Invite families into your classroom throughout the school year.
Although I welcome families into my room anytime throughout the year, a few times a year, I specifically invite them in. When we have are Harvest Day in October, I invite the families in to help with our Pumpkin Investigation. After we have our parade of costumes, many families follow us back into the building to visit, observe what we are doing, and many decide to stay and participate. Most times they are very helpful because things get quite messy with the pumpkins. For families that have younger siblings that are not school-age, I welcome them too. Some families will not come if they have to find a sitter to come to the school. I had 2 or 3 little babies in my room last year for the investigation. They were so much fun!
Before winter break begins, we usually have a half day so I invite families into the room to have hot chocolate and some sweet breakfast-like side. We do an art craft and then watch a holiday movie that we have voted on. I have seen students cuddled on their parent’s laps, lying on their bellies on the floor, simply relaxing being with each other. Since I don’t show movies often, it’s a precious sight to see.
Each year, my students and I put on a pretty big 50 States presentation at the end of the year. After an extensive amount of research, and a unit on the states and capitols, students choose a state to narrow their research. To present what they have learned, students create floats, PowerPoints, Prezi’s, Posters, Paper I-Pads, and Books. While I do have a rubric for this project, I give the students free-reign to choose how they display what they have learned. I can’t wait to see how creative the students are this year.
Once the projects are turned in and presented to the class, we choose a date and time and create an invitation to invite families in for the big presentation. We come up with the order of events and rehearse for about 2 weeks or so. I usually thank the families for coming, and then I sit, direct, and let the kids do their thing. I have yet to be disappointed. On Monday, at our Meet the Teacher Night, I had a parent say, “You’re the teacher that does the 50 State’s Presentations! I can’t wait for those in the spring. I will be here!” This was my first time meeting her and her son, so I am assuming she heard about this from word of mouth.
If families are unable to physically make it into your room, invite them in digitally! Use the Class Dojo so that you can post pics of what their children are doing in class. Of course all families won’t use it, but it’s another option for them see what is happening on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Another way to stay connected.
- Bonus Tip: I guess there were more than 5. I do not shake hands of my students or their families. I go all the way in for the hug. So tip number six is hug every family member.
- BonusTip: Stop always using the words parents and guardians. We have too many children that do not live with their parents and the word guardian just sounds…yuck! Just call them family.
These are my 5 (I mean 7) tips for helping to build real and strong relationships with students and their families. I am proud to say that these tips have worked for me year in and year out, with small tweaks here and there over the years. I am also pleased to say that I can count the number of problems I have had with families on one hand (and I mean that literally). I usually do not have behavior issues with students either. What I mean by that is that I do not have to send students out of my room often or write them up. But every year is different. I’d like to believe that these tips on building relationships have something to do with that. Getting families to trust me is important because it gets their children to trust me and buy-in to what I am trying to teach them.
I am always interested in what you have to say so I’d like to know how you build relationships with your students. Maybe I can add a few of your ideas to my bag of tricks and vice versa. Have you tried any of the tips above? How have they worked for you? Remember: as we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, please share your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for reading!
Until next time, Happy Teaching! 🙂