by Heather Dooley
The start of the school year brings excitement and opportunity, and hectic to-do lists for school administration teams. At the top of the list, make sure to include an intentional focus on welcoming families. Laying the groundwork for positive, trusting relationships with families in week one will pay dividends all year long. Here are three tips school leaders can use to get started.
1. Your first message: Start off on the right foot
First impressions matter – and are an opportunity for school leaders to set a positive tone for the year ahead. Introduce yourself and welcome families to the new year with a personalized, positive message that lets each family know they are important. Consider using video or audio to humanize your message, and make sure to translate all communication into each family’s home language. Engaging families in their preferred language is essential for families to access information and a powerful way to create a welcoming, inclusive school culture.
- Dr. Karen Mapp of Harvard University is a leading family engagement scholar and author of The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships
Avoid leading with logistics, negative messaging, or making an ask of families before having sent a welcoming introduction. Research shows that an intentional focus on building trust and positive bonds with families first – before jumping into the work of teaching, learning, and addressing the issues that come up throughout the year – is a critical first step.
Have teachers send welcome messages to each family in their home language, too.
2. Plan ahead
Get in front of effective year-long engagement by developing a communication plan for your school and district to avoid over- or under-communicating with families. Map out communication early so it’s easy to execute throughout the year; this toolkit can help you get started.
Create and share templates to simplify recurring messages. Pre-schedule logistical reminders about schedule changes, holidays, community events, back-to-school nights, student testing, family conferences, and report cards. Support teachers in developing their classroom communication plan and pre-scheduling updates about classroom activities, schedules, celebrations, and birthday greetings for each student.
Save and share templates:
Pre-schedule recurring messages:
Set your ideal cadence for each reminder:
3. Prepare families for success
The start of the year can be overwhelming, particularly for newcomer and non-English-speaking families. Let families know how and where to find communication, and streamline outreach by focusing on the channels families prefer and can easily access. Incorporate gathering insights from families into school communication practices; two-way translated polls offer an easy way to learn from families:
Set expectations for communication norms, so families know what to expect. Avoid overloading families with too many messages or using too many different channels. Clarify how families can manage preferences to receive information in ways that work for them. Provide support to help families find and log in to systems and tools; offer these resources in one consistent place so they are easy to find. Translate messages and supporting resources into family home languages.
As the year progresses, audit engagement and check in with families to see what’s working best for them, then use these insights to fine-tune your communication plan.
TalkingPoints is an education technology nonprofit that drives student success by removing critical barriers to equitable family-school partnerships, such as language, time, mindsets, and capacity. Ten of the country’s twenty largest school districts trust TalkingPoints to create a district culture where all families, no matter their background, can engage with their schools. Our simple, intuitive family engagement platform offers the highest-quality human- and AI-powered two-way translated communication available — in 150 languages and counting. Named by Common Sense Education as “the best overall family communication platform for teachers and schools”, TalkingPoints leads to higher test scores and lower absenteeism, as shown by rigorous causal research that meets the ESSA Tier 2 standard of evidence. To learn more, view our TED Talk or visit talkingpts.org.