#OneSmallThing With Jen Larson

by | 08.19.17

Jen Larson is a kindergarten teacher and community building coach in Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @superduperjen1.

As educators we talk a lot about building trust with our students. We know it’s key to our students’ success. And we know it’s through that foundational trust that we can work toward goals, together, to keep the learning going.

But in recent years, I’ve realized that same trust needs to exist outside the classroom, too, with the families of our students. Our kids are students for only part of the day – their learning and growing continues well outside of school.

I started actually connecting with my students’ families after a revelation: I needed to go where the families were. So gone were the newsletters crinkled and stuffed into the bottoms of backpacks. There was a website and a blog. That didn’t work, either. When I think back, it’s easy to see why: They didn’t do anything to foster a conversation – it was all one-way.

At our open house a few years ago, I told families I’d started a private Facebook group for our class. I was honest about how I was new to Facebook and wasn’t sure how it would work, but that I hoped they’d join me there so we could share about their students’ learning.

I got their email addresses and their permission to show their students in photos and videos. I added families to the group by email address. Then I just went for it. I sent them photos of their students at work. I started posting about our math games, what stories we were reading, even reminders like, “Don’t forget pajama day is tomorrow!”

Families felt comfortable on the platform, so they were quick to “like” and reply to my posts. Soon our group became a place where families were sharing information back with me, trusting me enough to invite me in and share how homework went that day or what activity one student really loved over the weekend.

Facebook is also where families message me privately throughout the day, I think because they feel comfortable with me there. It’s where students help me draft celebratory messages to their families whenever they reach a milestone. And it’s where I get to pop in at the end of a summer and say to all my kids, “One more week till we’re all first graders!” I think it helps students and families alike, throughout the transitions they face, to know there’s someone who knows and will stay beside them.

The more families feel safe and comfortable with me, the more they’ll support what’s in the room and I’ll support what’s at home. That mutual support, that two-way communication, means families and I are on the same page.

I hope this makes as much difference for you as it has for me. And if there’s anything I can do to help you get started, find me on Twitter at @superduperjen1 – I’d be delighted to learn from you about deepening our connections to families. And I hope you find your one small thing to celebrate success and make family-teacher communication something to be excited about!

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