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September 1, 2017
Vol. 75
No. 1

Tell Me About … / How You Made a Family Feel Welcome at School

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Engagement

Offering a Ride

As the director of student services, I work with families in making educational decisions for children with disabilities, including determining the least restrictive environment for learning. In one case, the least restrictive environment was a school for students with moderate cognitive delays that is located 30 minutes from our town. Before enrolling the student at the school, I wanted his mother to see the facility and meet the staff. However, she didn't have transportation to get there. To make this happen, I picked her up from her home and brought her to the school and back again. She was extremely appreciative and happy with the placement option for her son, where he has been successful since.
Michele Barkley, director of student services, Winthrop Harbor School District, Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

Recognizing the Positives

As a former dyslexia therapist, I spent ten years building confidence in students and helping parents understand their child's struggles. When I became an assistant principal, I was quickly able to put that experience to use with a family at my school. I received complaints from teachers about a defiant student; she came from a broken home, and had unfairly received a "bad girl" reputation. From what I could tell, phone calls home were never positive. I started by calling her grandmother and sharing the positives I had witnessed in the student. She was shocked by the call–she hadn't heard positive words since her granddaughter started school! Although I still had to share the discipline report with her, I earned her trust by showing that I knew about her granddaughter's strengths and cared about her success. Throughout the year I built that same trust with the student, and my first positive phone call home the following year was to that family!
Shelly Spears, assistant principal, Prosper ISD, Prosper, Texas

Taking a Personal Interest

Last summer, a parent came to school worried about her child with known behavioral issues starting kindergarten in the fall. I spent a few minutes reassuring her that her son would be cared for and that behavioral issues would be addressed with the intent to help. After the parent left the office, I asked for the child to be placed in my class despite the serious concerns. The parent was so relieved and thankful at the first meet-and-greet because we had already met and she felt comfortable with me. We worked together as a team all year to help the student to be his very best!
Rebecca Robbins, kindergarten teacher, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Reaching Out with Technology

After seeing some of Minnesota principal and author Brad Gustafson's work, I took some time this summer to learn how to use both Touchcast and Aurasma to create a baseball card with a personalized touch to introduce myself. With cards I created through Aurasma, when a mobile device scans my picture on the card, my image comes to life and begins talking to the card holder. I plan to hand out the cards at our ice-cream social before school starts to begin building relationships with our students and families, and to build everyone's anticipation for the school year's kick off!
Eric Ewald, principal, Van Allen Elementary, Iowa City Community Schools, North Liberty, Iowa

Making Friends

Before school started, my teacher assistant and I went to each of our pre-K students' homes carrying a basket of stuffed animals, and we asked each child to pick one. Attached to each toy was a note telling them their teachers had have been waiting for them all summer. The note also said that we knew they might be a little scared of going to school but they should give their stuffed animal a squeeze and remember that they would be safe and loved at school. My new students were happy to meet us, and their parents were relieved, too. It was the first time I had 100 percent parental attendance at parent teacher conferences.
Theresa Holloran, pre-K teacher, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Virginia Beach, Virginia

A Personal Connection

Our administrative team invites families to attend "Parent University" throughout the year. Last spring, we conducted a session on cyber safety. Two grandparents asked tons of questions to find out how to protect their grandson, who had recently moved in with them. I sat with them and said that I would be available to talk any time. They called the next day and, over coffee, we discussed social media and the bigger issue: their grandson's emotional state since his mother left. We talked throughout the year. After her husband's funeral, the grandmother hugged me, saying, "Thank you for being so good to us."
Michelle Minotti, principal, Parkland School District, Allentown, Pennsylvania

Teaching Math to Families

We have been working hard to ensure families feel welcome in the school and are aware of current teaching strategies for math. We invite parents and students to Family Math Nights to share how parents can support their child's learning at home. Our teachers offer multiple strategies to encourage a positive "mathitude" and increase self-confidence with families.
Jason Rodman, vice principal, Durham District School Board, Whitby, Ontario

Speaking Their Language

Based on an idea from our Recent Immigrant Counselor, Patricia Economides, our school district filmed several informative videos featuring staff members presenting on our district's key policies, including our mission, our attendance policy, our ESL program, and other important topics. To make them as accessible as possible, we have dubbed these videos into different languages: Arabic, Dari, Korean, Mandarin, Pashto, Spanish, Swahili, and Vietnamese. When new families arrive at our district's Welcome Center, they can view these videos in their own language. We also make the videos available on YouTube, so families can rewatch them at home.
Carol Salva, newcomer/refugee teacher, Spring Branch ISD, Houston, Texas

See upcoming questions and submit your own response at www.ascd.org/tellmeabout.

EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

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