As a classroom teacher, I know how important it is to collaborate with families, especially when I have a concern about a student. But families aren’t the only ones I partner with to support students.
As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That village also includes other teachers and staff members — partner teachers, paraprofessionals, learning specialists, and service providers like speech or occupational therapists.
This “village” collaboration can feel tricky and even impossible sometimes. But there are steps you can take to make collaboration manageable, impactful, and meaningful for the whole team. Here’s what I do.
1. Let families know who’s involved from the start.
It can be overwhelming for families to meet a group of teachers and staff members for the first time, especially if it’s at a meeting about a concern. That’s why I introduce families to all the teachers and staff as early as possible in the school year.
I use our back-to-school night and newsletters to introduce the team. I let families know who specific staff members are and what they do. I also make magnets and bookmarks that have the entire team’s contact information on them. Families love that they can keep this information handy on their refrigerators or desks.
2. Build systems for whole team communication with families.
I prioritize communication with families because I know how important family partnerships are to student success. But I also want families to feel comfortable sharing with the entire team — not just me. So I make sure to include the team in much of my communication.
Before the school year starts, I make a plan for how and when I will communicate with families. I add my plan to a shared team calendar so my colleagues have a chance to contribute to the classroom newsletters, emails, and text messages before I send it out.
When team members add their voices to my classroom communication, families get more comfortable with hearing from the entire team.
3. Communicate regularly with your school team.
Our school’s daily schoolwide meetings are great for sharing positive news and quickly checking in about students. But at our smaller team meetings, we can get more detailed about how our students are doing. The meetings often include partner teachers, learning specialists, and grade-level teachers.
At these small team meetings, we start by sharing positive observations about specific students. Then later, we can give students precise praise about their progress. These shout-outs help students feel seen for the places they’ve shown growth or for their positive contributions to the school community.
We also share data we’ve collected through our schoolwide systems. This data includes academic information, reports from specials, and our observations. We talk about the data, ask questions, and share insights.
If I have a concern about a specific student, I ask my team questions: What have they observed? What’s their experience with the student? I want to make sure that this is a consistent observance rather than an isolated event.
Not all of our service providers can attend every small team meeting. I may need to follow up with specific team members to gather progress reports and notes so that we have a fuller picture.
Once we identify a pattern in the observations, we decide to share this concern with the family.
4. Lean on your relationships when reaching out to families.
When the team has a concern about a student, communicating with families is one of the most important steps. It can feel intimidating to both families and teachers. That’s why I lean on my relationships. Because of the strong communications systems I’ve built, my authentic relationships make it easier for us to talk about difficult topics.
I usually reach out to the student’s family on behalf of the entire team. I start the conversation, but I also give the family space to share observations and ask questions. I let them know it’s OK to reach out to other team members if they need more information.
5. Meet with the family and plan next steps.
No matter if I meet in person or virtually, with the whole team or only with part of the team, I try to be understanding, authentic, and honest. Some conversations are not easy to have. But once the team is on the same page, everyone can make decisions that are in the best interest of the student.
At the end of the meeting with the family, I make sure everyone understands what happens next. I close the meeting with specific next steps, due dates, and who will handle what. I also let the family know that this meeting is just one step. We will continue to meet and communicate with each other to support their child.
As a team, we set clear expectations for what each of us will do. This helps us to keep each other accountable. And we can all feel comfortable knowing that we have a plan to support the student.
Looking for more information on communication with families? Download this guide.
When students struggle - A teacher's guide to communicating with familiesPDF
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About the author
About the author
Lakrisha Howard, MA is an Understood Teacher Fellow and a second-grade teacher in Newark, New Jersey.