Who’s In Your Hive: The Educator’s Role
Members of a student’s hive, or support system, should be in constant communication to give that student the best opportunity for academic success. As discussed in our prior blog, Who’s In Your Hive - The School’s Role, members of a student’s hive take most of their cues about communication from school leaders, though it’s often up to educators to put this into action.
Educators are on the front lines when it comes to establishing a collaborative relationship with both parents and school leaders. They are often the first point of contact a parent establishes at school, thus much of the cues parents and students follow with respect to school culture will be born of the educator’s example.
Relationships are built over time, something that is hard to come by in a single school year. Therefore, to maximize your impact with each student, educators should start building parental connections at the earliest opportunity. This begins with communication to help parents identify all members of a student’s hive and understand the role each plays in the learning journey.
Create A Welcoming Environment
Parents like to understand who is responsible for their children’s education, not just as an educator but as a person. Credentials and teaching philosophy are important elements, but they are only part of the picture. Where are educators from? What are their hobbies? Do they have children? Educators should choose some personal details they feel comfortable sharing to increase the number and types of connections they can establish with parents.
Educators can share their bio in a handout or on a classroom web page. Face-to-face sharing presents opportunities for a conversation to evolve. However educators choose to engage parents, the act of sharing a small personal detail can lead to a relationship. Therefore, educators should strive to engage in personal interaction whenever possible.
One way to establish a personal interaction is to engage in home visits, which have been referred to as the most effective form of face-to-face interaction, not just because they provide the opportunity for conversation, but because they offer insight into the home environment that may help or hinder learning outside the classroom.
Home visits afford educators the opportunity to learn about what motivates a student and help identify designated spots for homework. If home visits aren’t an option open houses or office hours can bring parents into the school. When face-to-face interaction isn’t feasible sharing course syllabi is another way in which parents can gain insight into the curriculum and daily schedule their child will participate in.
Regardless of whether an educator utilizes home visits, school visits or written messages, communication creates a welcoming environment that facilitates a relationship where both the educator and the parent feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their ideas.
When all parties feel comfortable with each other confidence and trust are more likely to be established, which are the basis of a solid partnership. Mai Xi Lee, Assistant Principal and Co-Coordinator of Parent University at Luther Burbank High School, said, “Parents will listen to an educator if they are connected to that educator and feel as if they, too, have been heard. People instinctively listen to those they respect and trust.”
For parents, each school year brings new educators, new classroom policies, new curriculum and new communication procedures for every child and every educator. Depending on the number of children and educators associated with any given family, that could be anywhere from one to 20 new people and practices parents need to become familiar with.
Educators can help families transition to the new environment by clearly defining all roles, responsibilities and procedures they utilize in their classroom. Setting expectations at the outset can help parents adjust, and identify where their contributions will have an impact. At a minimum, educators should set expectations for the following:
- Curriculum – what students will be learning
- Homework policy – frequency, time students should spend on homework, consequences for not completing homework
- Grading policy – how students will be graded (i.e. effort, progress, final score), what constitutes a passing or failing grade
- Behavior/discipline – acceptable classroom behavior and process for correcting behavior that doesn’t meet the minimum requirements
- Resources – websites and materials available for supplemental learning
- Celebrations – whether celebrations for birthdays and/or holidays are permitted and acceptable food or favors to bring to class
- Communication – the best method for reaching the educator with questions or concerns, and procedures to resolve any conflicts that may arise
- Parent role – volunteer opportunities in the classroom, classroom materials or donations, supporting the child outside the classroom (homework, time management, etc.)
The above items should be documented in writing for reference, however, elementary educator Camille Cavazos, writes in eSchoolNews that, “educators should use face-to-face events to their advantage as much as possible,” particularly to help establish expectations for parents, students and educators alike from the beginning of the school year. This is because parents have their own expectations, and educators need to hear those as well.
Parental expectations are likely to revolve around what they want for their children, such as more instruction on writing or computers, or more classroom involvement. Many parents also want to know if their children participate in and enjoy the class. Thus, it’s important for educators to both share their expectations and listen to those of the parents. Being receptive to parent’s wishes can further solidify the connection between parents and educators.
Parents expect teachers to share information, but they don’t always expect to exchange it simply because they don’t know where, when or how to speak up. Thus, it’s up to the educator to set the tone by inviting parents to share their thoughts and concerns.
Larry Ferlazzo, educator and parental engagement expert, believes one simple question, “Can you please tell me about the times in your child’s life that he/she has seemed to be learning the most and working hard in school, and what you think their educator was doing at that time to encourage it?” makes all the difference when it comes to establishing a partnership between parents and educators.
An invitation to exchange information, such as with the question above, should take place at the beginning of the year, and needs to be reiterated throughout the year to keep parents engaged, which can be done with very little effort.
Each time an educator shares information they can invite parents to contact them with questions, ask for feedback on the assignments that come home, or suggest a topic for dinner conversation that the kids will also discuss in class. These activities help all parents participate in the learning process regardless of whether they can be in the classroom or not.
The simple act of inviting parents to share helps them feel like a valued team member. Says Katy Ridnouer, teacher and author, “we educators need to work at creating opportunities for parents to become thirsty for a relationship with us, just as we work to create opportunities for creating a thirst for learning in our students.” When educators shift from trying to make parents listen and instead listen to them, relationships follow.
Lastly, educators should remember that sharing information doesn’t have to be limited to recounting what was done in class, reminding parents of important calendar items, or notifying them of problems. Sharing should also focus on the student’s personal growth.
Many parents have never received a phone call from their child’s educator to tell them about a positive development, such as the student raising his or her hand in class for the first time. Milestones like these are important to parents, but they often go unnoticed unless the educator makes it a point to share. Doing so further enhances the parent/educator relationship, and inspires parents to fulfill their role in the education process.
Evaluate Your Results
A collaborative hive is achieved when the relevant parties view each other as partners. Mai Xi Lee suggests educators ask the following questions to determine whether they are successfully engaging staff, students and parents:
- Do you have a relationship with the parents, aside from the fact that their child is in your class/school?
- What mechanisms have been put into place to foster a relationship?
- What is your level of engagement with members of a student’s hive?
- When you converse with members of a student’s hive, is the interaction positive or negative?
If the answers to these questions indicate sufficient and varied communication, you likely have formed or are forming a partnership with them. If the answers suggest limited contact it’s likely that person doesn’t feel welcome, doesn’t know what is expected of them, or doesn’t feel comfortable communicating. Reaching out to them could alleviate any misgivings they have and turn them into a partner.
About Hive Digital Minds
Hive Digital Minds is the creator of SchoolBzz, a cloud-based platform for whole-school communication that streamlines how schools share information with everyone involved in a student’s learning journey. The SchoolBzz team is comprised of parents, educators and communications experts who built the platform with the specific goals of addressing parents’ needs and schools’ frustrations, to eliminate barriers to effective communication and foster a thriving school culture. Hive is a member of AWS EdStart, and a certified partner of Schoology.
About The Author
Jennifer Larson, is the Co-Founder, CEO and visionary force behind Hive Digital Minds. As a mother of four she is passionate about finding innovative ways to engage parents and supporters in their child’s learning journey. Her company’s flagship product SchoolBzz is the culmination of Jennifer’s 15 years in education – working with thousands of educators and parents on their communication and engagement strategies.
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