Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!


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By Randy Sprick

One of the most important actions an educator can take to ensure student success is to build positive relationships with students' families. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) at the University of Chicago has identified constructive parent-community ties as the second of five essential elements that must be in place before a school can successfully create learning environments conducive to positive student outcomes.

Making the effort to communicate with your students' families sends a powerful message that you want to include them in what happens at school. Early efforts to communicate with families increase the probability that they will support learning goals throughout the year and work with you to problem solve if issues should arise.

Initial Contact

Make family contacts as personal as you can and as early as you can—ideally before school begins or within the first two weeks of school.

Cultural Competence

When working with families, be aware of cultural differences. Child-rearing practices vary from culture to culture. In some cultures, families take an active role in their child's school life. In other cultures, families view the educator as the expert and believe it is not their place to interfere in the educational process.

Some families may distance themselves from school because of their own negative experiences, fear or misunderstanding of the educational system, job schedules, and/or limited proficiency in English.

If families stay away from school, it does not mean they are not interested or involved in their child's schooling. Send information home regarding the student's progress and continue to be welcoming.

Options for this initial contact include:

This first contact allows you to give your students and their families important information about your vision for the upcoming year and serves as the first step in establishing a productive relationship with them.

1. Provide family members with:

2. Share with families:

3. Invite two-way communication:

(Download a sample introductory letter from an elementary teacher and another from a secondary teacher.)

Ongoing Contact

Continue contact with families throughout the school year. When families feel that you are making an effort to keep them informed, they are more likely to work with you should their student have a behavioral or academic problem. The key is to identify ways of maintaining communication without burning yourself out.

Some contact opportunities will arise from regularly scheduled school events such as parent-teacher conferences, Open House, and Back-to-School Night. Other ways to keep communication open are:

Staying On Track with Communication

Use a class list and some form of coding to keep track of your ongoing contacts with families. For example, you might write "9/22, Ph +" and "10/4, Conf -" next to a student's name to indicate that you made a positive phone contact on September 22 and had a face-to-face conference about a problem at school on October 4.

A written record helps you monitor how often and in what ways you have contacted each student's family. This allows you to see at a glance whether there are any families you have not contacted and whether your contacts are primarily positive or negative.

Note: Positive contacts with students’ families should outweigh negative contacts. Throughout the year, catch students (particularly those who have difficulties) when they meet expectations and work toward goals. Let family members know about their successes, big or small.

Positive contacts with families and your efforts to communicate demonstrate that you have the student's best interests at heart. Let families know that you will work with them to help all students be successful in your classroom.

—Excerpt from CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management, 2nd ed. Copyright © 2009 by Pacific Northwest Publishing. All rights reserved.

Teachers, School Psychs, Counselors

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The Tough Kid Parent Book available from Pacific Northwest Publishing

The Tough Kid Parent Book

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