Building relationships…

“Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

The importance of building relationships allows you to get to know the students, parents and staff you are working with, but it also allows them to get to know you.  The above quote speaks to me about the importance of building relationships.  I believe that building positive relationships is critical to being an effective administrator.

The more I read on twitter and the more  course work that I do, I am affirmed in my belief about the power of building relationships.  I have spent time thinking about and reflecting on the importance of building positive relationships with students, colleagues and families of our schools.

This summer I have been thinking about the best ways to do this as I will be moving to a new school (have I mentioned that?:)) These are some of my ideas, from the past and from the present…

Students

Being present:   In my experience, the best way to build relationships with students is to be present.  Be present in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the playground, during sport events and extra-curricular activities. Be present before, during and after school.  Be present during recess breaks and lunch time.

Learn their names: At my current/former school I was so proud to say that I knew each student by name.  Students and parents would often ask me, “How do you remember all of our names?”  This was one thing that students wrote about in my beautiful year end keepsake.

Ask questions: During classroom visits, I always ask students to , “Tell me what you are learning about today” and “Can I help you in anyway?”  Quite often, this is the best part of my day. During recess breaks and lunch break I often ask students, “What do you love to do outside of school?” or “What do you enjoy doing with your family?”  Through these informal conversations I learn a lot about a student.

Share stories: Students also like to hear what I do outside of school.  The smaller the student, the more surprised they are that I don’t actually live at the school. :)  They like to know about my kids, my family and what I like to do besides work.

Families

Be present: Be present and available during Meet the Staff evenings, Open House, Family Fun Nights, Parent Teacher Interviews, sporting events…

Share a positive story:  All too often when I have to phone a parent it is usually for discipline of their child.  As often as I can, I like to share positive stories as well.  Taking the time to share the good as well as the bad, lets parents know that you care about their child.

Listen: When parents/families contact me, they have something important to say.  I need to take the time to listen.  Sometimes it takes awhile to truly hear what they are trying to tell me, other times, it’s just a quick chat.

Return phone calls: I understand the busy-ness of everyday, however, if a parent or family member has called, I do my very best to return that phone call in a timely manner.  Parents appreciate the time it takes to return the phone call and they feel valued and respected by this simple courtesy.

Colleagues

Be present: Be present and available through out the school day, during instructional time, during recess and lunch breaks, before and after school, during Parent Teacher Interviews and Professional Development days.

Listen: Similar to parents, I try to ensure that I listen to staff.  They are in the “trenches” and know their students so well.  When they come to me to share a story, celebrate a success, vent, cry or laugh I need to take the time to truly listen.

Offer Support: When and if I can, I offer support.  I often say, “What can I do to help?”

Share stories: I am a pretty open book with colleagues.  I share stories about my family, my life experiences and my teaching experiences.  Over the past 16 years, I have learned a lot and I have stories to share.  Sometimes I have an idea or suggestion to share.  Other times, I share a failure and what I learned from that experience.

Taking time to build relationships demonstrates my dedication to each individual that I encounter.  When relationships are built, people have a better idea of what I am about and they are more willing to listen to my message.

I know there are many more ideas to build relationships and I would love to hear from you…what did I miss???

:)S

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Engaging Families

family

At our school, we struggle to improve family engagement and involvement.  The level of parental involvement directly impacts the success of student learning.  There are a wide variety of complexities that cause families to become disengaged: financial hardship, instability of the family structure, prior negative academic experiences and simply being “too busy.”  We have parents who are busy working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, so their first concern is providing a roof over their heads and food on their tables.  We have families that are going through difficult separations or divorces.  Blended families also add to the complexity.  A number of parents have described negative academic experiences in their history.  These parents struggle with trusting our school to not treat their child the same way they were treated.  We also have families who claim they are just “too busy” to be involved with homework or school functions.  These families are usually shuttling their children from activity to activity.

Parental involvement and engagement plays a role in the social and emotional development of our students.  The interactions that parents have with their children directly affect the child’s social and emotional development.  Families who are struggling financially, with relationships, or past negative academic experiences, directly impact their child’s beliefs and attitudes.  If the interaction between parents and school is more often positive it is easier for a child to develop a healthy attitude towards school and learning.

I believe the key to increasing parental involvement is in establishing positive relationships with students and families.  This process begins early in the school year.  I encourage teachers to attempt two strategies to begin to build positive relationships with their students and their families.  I ask teachers to greet their students each morning at the door to their classroom.  A friendly, “good morning” and “how are you?” is a beautiful way to begin the day.  As well, a number of primary parents bring their child to school.  Being available in the morning provides parents with an opportunity to converse with the teacher in a positive way.  If there are any questions or concerns, they could potentially be addressed immediately.  Greeting students each morning allows teachers to gauge the mood of their students.  If a child seems more animated than usual, it is an opportunity to have a discussion about what is making them so happy.  Or, if a student seems upset, lessons or expectations might require adjustments.

I encourage teachers to make an early “sunshine” phone call to families within the first two weeks of school.  Teachers phone parents to relay a positive message about a student.  These “sunshine” calls go a long way in establishing supportive relationships.  I believe that the first contact with parents must be a positive one, so when or if a more negative call has to be made, the first contact has demonstrated that the teacher cares about the child.  Teachers have shared with me that these calls have made a positive impact on their relationships with parents.

Family and parental involvement in the education of children has the ability to improve academic achievement in our students.  As educators, we are responsible to attempt to understand what our students are going through at home.  We have tried several other strategies to improve parental involvement, but I am curious to hear what other suggestions others might have?