Connecting Families to Schools: Building Trusting Relationships

by Donna Bayly, M.Ed., and Louise LeBron, M.S.

As school communities become increasingly more interdependent in response to the needs of diverse student populations, the need for trusting relationships between families and schools is crucial. The collaborative nature of shared decision-making within school communities involving parents, school administrators, teachers, and students begs for the basic constructs of trust: care for others' well-being, integrity of word and action, open communication, reliability characterized by commitment, and professional competency (Tschannen-Moran, 2004). Fundamental to school communities is fostering family-school partnerships based on a foundation of trust (Tschannen-Moran, 2004; Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000).

Administrators and teachers who create opportunities for families to become involved in their children's school experiences find that the school community's educational experience on a whole is enhanced (Friend & Cook, 1996). Specifically, schools report positive outcomes of family involvement on students' academic achievement, school attendance, and behavior. Further, maintenance of healthy relationships between schools and families raises professional standards in schools cultivating a high level of mutual trust that strengthens the entire school community (Walther-Thomas et al., 2000).

What activities encourage positive home-school connections that are based on trust?
  • Fall and spring open houses and regularly scheduled class meetings serve as a venue for clearly communicating school and classroom goals and expectations. These opportunities set the tone for a trusting learning environment.

  • Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled early in the school year and periodically throughout the school year. Conferencing can take the form of one-on-one or team meetings, telephone conferences, or email communications. Regular conferencing promotes a meaningful exchange of ideas, provides a venue for discussing student celebrations as well as concerns, and creates a climate of parity.

  • Family volunteer opportunities extend an invitation to family members to share their resources and skills with the school community making them an important component in student learning and school functioning.

  • Parent advisory groups open doors for parents to serve as advocates for their children within the schoolwide decision-making process. A school environment based on trust respects these groups as voices of student support rather than factions of parental opposition.

  • Workshops addressing changing instructional practices to meet the needs of students with achievement gaps invite families to partner with teaching professionals in supporting student learning.

  • Special education tools that foster home-school connections promote open communication and valued input essential to a trusting school-family partnership for special education students.

    • As members of the IEP team, parents have valuable information necessary to write an appropriate IEP. The Parental Input form asks families for their input on their child's: (a) strengths and needs, (b) social and behavioral concerns, (c) characteristics of learning style, (d) testing accommodations required, and (e) classroom accommodations that bring school success. It is best completed a month before the IEP is written.

    • To ensure that the voice of the student is included in the IEP process, assist him or her in completing a Student Input form. Guide the student in identifying strengths and needs. Ask questions that develop specific goals addressing the student's specific learning needs. It is important to include behavioral as well as academic goals. Students' confidence will build as progress is made toward achieving their goals.

    • Have a draft IEP available a week before the IEP team meeting. Encourage parents or guardians to read the draft IEP to ensure that it captures their interests and concerns before the IEP team meeting, and to offer input.

Although building trusting school-family partnerships takes "time, effort, and leadership, the investment will bring lasting returns" (Tschannen-Moran, 2004, p.188).

References

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (1996). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers USA.

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust matters: Leadership for successful schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V.L., & Williams, B.T. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. 

Date: September/October 2006