Strong learning communities are built on good relationships between home and school.

Communication is key to building relationships. Relationships are foundational for building learning communities. A parent creates the first learning relationship as soon as the baby comes. Parents’ relationships encompass a broader learning community as their toddler’s world expands. Later, strong bonds between parents and school personnel provide critical scaffolding for student success. Free-flowing communication is crucial.

Parent- teacher conferences are a good starting place. There are two kinds of conferences, the formal ones that appear on the school calendar and the more spontaneous ones that pop up as children adjust to new expectations and social settings.

There are good reasons for teachers as well as parents to make the effort to go into the conversation with a positive attitude and open mind. Teachers gain insights because no one knows their students better than their families. Parents get a window into their child’s life outside of home. Together parents and teachers can support each child to embrace the challenges of learning and thriving in the wider world.

According to Jessica Lander at Harvard Graduate School of Education, “Meaningful engagement with families can help our students succeed academically and socially. Research reveals it can also improve students’ attendance and grades, as well as their likelihood of graduating from high school and attending college. Studies are resounding: robust family engagement in schools positively affects student growth, improves test scores, and enhances the overall vibrancy and success of a school.”

Parents and teachers working as a team create a powerful foundation for success when they go into the conference with an open mind and a little preparation. Here are a few ideas for forming a trusting relationship and a true alliance during these first critical conversations.

Invite an interpreter if there is a chance that language will be an obstacle. Use this time to flesh out a positive relationship for your year-long partnership. Keep each other informed. Situations at home may be affecting school experiences, and it helps if the teacher knows about them.

Talk about student strengths, peer relationships, balance what the child is doing well with discussion of the areas that need improvement. Compare your observations about what motivates your child. Don’t let testing/assessments dominate the conversation. Specific conversations can come later when a good working relationship has been established.

Some topics to get the ball rolling: How can I help? What is the best way to contact you? What does my child enjoy doing? What motivates my child? Does my child seem happy at school? How is my child relating to peers? What do you perceive as my child’s strengths and weaknesses? What are your expectations? Can you help me with this particular issue?

Teachers, don’t assume that parents who don’t come to school are disengaged. Some parents feel that school is not a welcoming place, others work hours that preclude meeting during your scheduled times. To make positive societal change both parents and teachers must get creative in finding ways to connect with each other.