I finally had the time to watch Todd Nesloney’s Ted Talk. It has been on my to-do list since it was released and I decided to watch the video while I waited for my car to be repaired today. A fifteen minute talk quickly became a thirty minute viewing session due to my constant pause button pressing to prevent myself from blubbering in the waiting room of the car dealership.
First and foremost, Todd is incredible. I’ve read his book but I have never met him in person. Seeing him speak made me feel the passion behind his words. It’s not something that surprised me at all. He has a big heart. He doesn’t let fear hold him back from being vulnerable. He admits when his ideas don’t go as planned and then shares how he perseveres. It’s this honesty that makes him so genuine and draws countless educators towards his mission.
Hearing Todd tell the Dinner with a Gentleman story and hearing how the adults in the apartment complex near his school always ask why they are being served food really got me thinking. We talk so much about how #KidsDeserveIt and they do. But what Todd said also got me thinking how #FamiliesDeserveIt too. Are schools there to serve kids? No doubt. Don’t get me wrong. I am, and always will be, a child advocate first. But let’s think about the families in our districts too. How many of them experienced success in school? How many of them fear stepping foot on a school campus because of their own experiences? Isn’t it time we let them know that they are deserving people too?
There are so many reasons why adults don’t show up at school events. I’m a firm believer that all families have good intentions. They’d be there in a heartbeat if they could but life gets in the way sometimes. The families we work with, in many ways, are older versions of the children we work with. They are confident and they doubt themselves. They are bold and shy. They feel loved and hated. They are supportive and frustrated. They wonder and they know. They laugh and they cry. They are people.
Just like it takes us more time to get to know certain students, some families might be more cautious to let us in too. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying. The families who challenge us the most sometimes have been challenged the most by school. Maybe they work three jobs, misunderstand a former teacher’s actions, had a bad experience with the school, don’t feel heard, don’t feel safe, feel unsure of their own abilities, are struggling with addiction, aren’t sure how they can help or better yet, feel like they are helping. And sometimes, they’re just busy. They definitely have good intentions.
What if we spent as much time getting to know families and telling them they’re appreciated as we do our students? They are people and they deserve it. Let’s make a commitment to not just engage families but to also make them feel appreciated.
Here are some things I have done or plan to do to show my appreciation for families…
- Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen when families feel like they aren’t being heard.
- Classroom Open House. Held over the summer so the families can come in, we can meet and they can see our classroom. Then they’ll know where their children are going when they hop on the bus the first day of school.
- Million Words or Less. The basic premise is families have a chance to tell about their children in a million words or less. The note goes home with the summer supply letter and gives families a chance to share the stories of their children.
- Together We Make a Family Board. Families send in family photos and they are displayed all year on a large bulletin board in our room.
- Take Your Family to School Days. We’ll host them often, rotate the days and invite families in so they can be with their fifth graders while they are at school.
- Positive Letters and Phone Calls Home… to Families! I’ll let them know how much I appreciate what they do to support their children.
- Family Feedback Forms. Families get the chance to give me feedback on my teaching so their voices are heard.
- Thank You Notes. If a family offers to help, gives a gift, donates supplies or volunteers, they receive a thank you note.
- Follow Through. If families request something, get back to them in a timely manner. It’s one less thing they have to worry about.
- Get to Know Them. What are they passionate about?
- Invite Them to Classroom Celebrations. They come in and get to hang out with their kids. It’s as simple as that. A class favorite is when we make gingerbread houses together as one big family.
- Tell Them They’re Appreciated…Often!