Your students’ families may appear to have many commonalities, such as speaking the same language, working the same hours, living in the same town or neighborhood, and so on. Some families may remind you of other families because both units appear so similar. But no matter how many commonalities families appear to have, each family has a unique history and story, has its own way of acting upon and interacting with the world, and presents opportunities for you to develop mutually rewarding and beneficial connections.
Approaching each family without preconceptions, even if the family seems similar to dozens of others you have met, will allow you to learn who the family members are and what wonderful mix of strengths they bring to their child’s world—and therefore to your world. Once you make the effort to get to know families, you will have the chance to learn about each family’s concerns, priorities, and existing and needed resources. This understanding makes the basis for a very important, lasting, and beneficial teacher-family relationship that allows you to respond individually to families instead of forcing them to fit within an existing communication structure.
Engaging families requires supporting family access to and meaningful participation in your classroom and providing needed supports to families, teachers, and other professionals. Following certain principles helps support family engagement, and these principles are also central to creating high-quality, inclusive environments for young children:
- All families need access to the early childhood community and the varied activities within it.
- Families need individualized supports and accommodations to support their meaningful participation.
- Families and teachers need support in terms of infrastructure and development to ensure that engagement strategies are developed and implemented.
To better understand each family’s unique strengths, priorities, concerns, and resources relative to enhancing the development of their child, ask the following questions:
- What are the interests, needs, and strengths that could link the child and family with a wider network of supports?
- What are the family’s current strengths in managing their daily lives and meeting their child’s needs? How can these strengths be expanded?
- What would the family like to do to support their child’s development and learning?
- What is the family’s approach to problem-solving?
- What are the family's concerns, hopes, and plans?
For more information on how to engage families in your classroom, check out The Welcoming Classroom: Building Strong Home-to-School Connections for Early Learning by Johnna Darragh Ernst, PhD.