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Getting to Know You (and you, and you, and you...)

Usually by October, the “back to school” feelings have started to subside, and classrooms and schools earnestly take up school routines that don’t feel shiny and new. Some things are going beautifully, and at the same time, some kids have forgotten to do or turn in work. Some of our good intentions have found a real rhythm while others haven’t materialized, and that’s okay. Now, it’s time to get curious.

We know that curiosity is an important element in learning, and teachers should nurture that in their students. One way to help educators further their own practice is by having teachers remain curious not just about their students and what they know but about their students’ families and their experiences with and in school. Building strong partnerships with families is important, and not just in the elementary years. Knowing the families that we serve is an integral function of all K-12 schools, and incorporating this into our year-long teaching routines allows teachers to do more thoughtful work throughout the year. Here are some ideas to get you started:

-Email families directly, asking them a couple of questions. Sending a family an email proactively is a great way to begin building a relationship with them. Including just a couple of questions about how school has been for them or their child(ren) offers a nice opening, especially when you can frame it as trying to build your understanding so that you can partner with them to best serve their child(ren). Sending a few of these a week for the first six to eight weeks of school can get the job done and can give you important insights into the families you serve.

-Ask colleagues for information. Last year’s teachers have a wealth of information about your students and their families. While you may not be able to effectively track each teacher down and ask them for everything they know, you can try to figure out which students might really benefit from that follow-up and do your best to seek out their previous teachers. You can pay this forward at the end of the year, by recording some information and passing it on to next year’s teacher. Administrators, this is an opportunity for an important communication system, and one that doesn’t have to be overly complicated!

-Create a survey. Ask families to share some insights about what their journey has been like with school so far, using either an online tool or a printed-out survey. Questions can be relatively brief, just make sure to include an option to follow up with you if there’s anything else they want to say or discuss in more detail.

The more we know about our students, the more we can see each of them as people and not merely students, and this is an essential shift. When we’re able to broaden and deepen our understanding of someone’s experience, we become better equipped to meet them where they are and help them take their next steps. So, as students begin to show some behaviors that you’d rather they not, try to stay open and curious, letting your inquisitiveness lead the conversation rather than your judgment.

Could you use some help articulating questions for families? Reach out; we’d love to help!

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