As an educator, I have long believed in the value of relationships. When I was still in the classroom, I worked hard to get to know all my students. I was a big fan of utilizing free moments in the day to talk with kids. I’d ask them about their family, pets, outside interests, or whatever they wanted to talk about. I felt that the more I knew about my students, the easier it was to connect with them during class time because they knew that I cared about them as a person first. As a classroom teacher, I probably had a good relationship with some of the families of my students, but I don’t think I realized the value of investing in meaningful relationships with my students’ families.
When I moved into an administrative role, I knew that it probably wouldn’t be possible to know all our students as well as I had when I was a classroom teacher. But in the administrative role, I soon came to realize that I needed to know more than just my students. It quickly became apparent that in this role, I needed to know the families of my students. Early in my administrative career, I participated in a book study around The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. It is a book that comes to mind regularly in my current role as an elementary school principal. The key takeaway from the book is that when trust is high, the speed of our relationships is that much faster. To me, the key to a high-trust environment is meaningful relationships.
Here are just a few of the reasons that I take the time to build strong relationships with the families of our students:
- Improved student outcomes – According to youth.gov, when parents are actively involved in their child’s education, students tend to perform better academically and have better attendance. I have learned that sometimes the families of our students have had negative interactions with schools in the past. Sometimes those situations go back to their own childhood.
- More effective collaboration – When we have strong relationships between the school and our families, we can develop plans to meet the needs of our students both at home and at school. In a high-trust relationship with a family, having conversations about home life and strategies parents might try with their child at home is more welcome. Parents will see that we are trying to help provide the support that students need to learn and grow into their greatest potential.
- Better school culture – When relationships are strong between school and our families, parents are more likely to be involved in school events. This involvement helps to support a positive and supportive school culture.
There are several ways that I work to build relationships, and by extension, trust, with our families. When we have events at school that parents will attend, I make a point to connect with as many of the families as possible. These small interactions show that I care about their child, and by extension, them. The welcoming and warm environment we strive to create helps our families feel comfortable to be here. I often encourage parents to volunteer in classrooms, sign up to be a substitute teacher, or help with events being led by our PTO. I also see the role of the principal as being the head communicator of a building. I strive to tell our story in multiple ways. Each week, in our school newsletter, I do a video update called “The Tiger Update.” Using video, I find that families can hear my voice and see my face – it seems more well-received than a weekly note from the principal in our newsletter. I also strive to share our school’s story on social media. As a school, we have a Facebook and Twitter feed. When parents know what’s happening at school, the connection is stronger, which helps build that relationship.
Overall, building a strong relationship with the families of our students helps create a high-trust environment that will better support our goals of having an impact on the learning and growth of every student who walks into our school.