When my son was in pre-K, I can remember parking, getting out of my car, walking into the early childhood education center and talking with his teacher, Mrs. Cobb. She would share details of his success on the potty and pass along the snippets of conversations she’d overheard him having with other children. I was able to pass along what I was seeing at home, the challenges he was having and some of the moments where I could see learning happening. Those two- minute conversations were highlights of my day.
When my son started Kindergarten, I did the same thing. The first two days, I walked him to the classroom and chatted with his teacher. On the third day, as I opened the school door and started down the hallway, I was stopped by a staff member.
“Hi… I”m walking Nathaniel to his class,” I said.
“Oh, I”m sorry…we don’t allow that,” the staff member said. “It’s okay for the first few days… but not now.”
“How will I know how he’s doing?” I asked.
“He’ll be fine,” she said.
So, I let loose of my son’s hand, gave him a kiss, turned around, and walked out of the school.
The message was clear:
We’ll take it from here, thank you.
From that moment on, the home-school communication changed. As my son worked his way through school, it faded.
It didn’t have to.
The best practices for family engagement and communication are all right there in Early Childhood. If we take our cues from those amazing programs and those amazing teachers, we can create a seamless communication handoff that will keep parents engaged throughout their children’s education.
Parents are never more engaged than that first day they drop their child off for school. All parents are hoping the day goes well and that their children succeed. They become disengaged when we don’t honor their expertise by communicating with them and bringing them into the learning.
Here are five communication tactics used in pre-K that should be a staple of any K-12 family engagement strategy:
- Focus on quantity vs. quality
In Pre-K, communication is constant. It’s often just a quick sentence on the back of a piece of artwork, a quick text, or a one-minute teacher-parent chat. Simple as they seem, each of these interactions helps build relationships with parents and sends an open, inviting impression. It’s high return for minimal time and effort. What’s more, the little things lay the groundwork for times when longer or more difficult communications are needed.
- Improve classroom access
In many Pre-K programs, classrooms are open to parents. In an ideal world, this would continue to some extent into K-12. Realistically, that’s probably not possible. So, let’s find a work around. Let’s take parents on live, virtual classroom tours. Or send them pictures or videos over secure networks. We have the technology, and this year, we’ve all learned how to use it. Let’s make it work.
- Host home visits and ‘get to know you’ conversations
Establishing a cadence for home-school communication early is one of hallmarks of a high-quality early childhood education program. Oftentimes, teachers do relationship building home visits before the start of school. Or, they take the time to meet with or call families throughout the year to listen and learn. These conversations not only allow families to bring their expertise to the table, they set the tone for the relationship and the school experience that follows. Parent Teacher Home Visits has a great model for this. Learn more at www.pthvp.org.
- Use all the ‘right’ words
Early Childhood teachers use simple, clear language with their young students. When it comes time to talk with parents… they often do the same. Early Childhood teachers instinctively know to leave out the jargon, acronyms, and authoritative or condescending tone. This approach helps to engage parents in the learning process.
- Strike a true partnership tone
Early Childhood teachers are trained and encouraged to see all behavior as part of child development. When they have to have difficult conversations with parents about student behavior, there’s no judgement. Kids are just kids… growing and learning at different times. This allows Early Childhood teachers to strike a softer nonjudgmental tone with parents. This, in turn, enables parents to feel more comfortable and more a part of the solution.
There are many more best practices in Early Childhood Education communication worth pushing up into the K-12 experience. These and other simple communication strategies can help create seamless hand-offs as students and families make their way through our schools. It can prevent disengagement. And, invites families to fully participate in the success of their students.
Interested in learning more about the power of communication in connecting with students and families? Download my Playbook for Clear, Effective & Meaningful School Communication.