Partnering with families is an essential component of my organization and management plan. Peterson and Hittie argue that a family-centered approach to learning is superior to system-centered and child-centered approaches (Peterson and Hittie 188). In a family-centered approach, “the child is considered in the context of the entire family” (Peterson & Hittie 188). Meetings are scheduled at the family’s convenience and teachers and support staff strive to give support and assistance to families (Peterson and Hittie188). Rather than focusing only on what is convenient for teachers and support staff (as in the system-centered approach) or focusing only on the needs of the student (as in the child-centered approach) this approach understands that the needs of the entire family must be taken into consideration to ensure success for a student (Peterson and Hittie 190).
I, too, believe that a family-centered approach is the best and plan to implement the practices that are involved in this approach in my classroom. The first practice is to engage families as partners in their student’s education (Peterson and Hittie 191). From the very beginning of the school year, I will express to parents that, just like them, I want their students to succeed. I will let families know that I am committed to not only helping their students succeed in my class, but I am also committed to helping the students’ families find ways to help their students succeed. For an English Language Arts class, this might mean helping students and families find leisure reading materials that will pique a student’s interest while also boosting his or her reading comprehension skills. The second practice of a family-centered approach to learning is to affirm and build on family strengths and gifts (Peterson and Hittie 191). This means instead of viewing families for their deficiencies or weaknesses, looking for ways in which families are supporting their students and acknowledging how families can use these strengths to further support their students. The third practice is to honor cultural diversity of families (Peterson and Hittie 192). I think this is particularly important for English teachers as we work directly with language, literacy and culture. It is important to include works of literature from a variety of cultures and to create an atmosphere that not only values diversity, but also questions the dominant ideologies that are often present in traditional works of literature. Inviting students and their families to share their cultural experiences with the rest of the class is another way to honor diversity. The fourth practice of a family-centered approach to education is to treat families with respect and dignity (Peterson and Hittie 192). This involves being compassionate towards families who may be experiencing personal challenges or school-related challenges (Peterson and Hittie 192). I believe the best way to do this is to always be empathetic and understanding and to let families know that I am available to listen to their concerns, whether the concerns pertain to their student or not. The last practice is to promote family choices (Peterson and Hittie 192). I think this is a crucial step in building a partnership with families as it demonstrates that their opinions and input are valued, particularly when dealing with students’ academic or behavioral difficulties.
I believe all of these practices of a family-centered approach can be achieved if communication with families is open and frequent. Brandvik and McKnight suggest a variety of methods for ensuring success when communicating with families. These include sending a welcome postcard or email before the school year begins and inviting families to a back-to-school night during which the teacher’s philosophies and goals for the class are expressed (Brandvik and Mcknight 246-8). At the Open House of my student teaching placement school, we did just this and it seemed to help foster better relationships with parents. One method that I have used is to make phone calls or send emails out to draw attention to positive student achievements. Brandvik and McKnight point out that by communicating with families about positive student behavior and achievement, a good relationship can be built and if problems do arise, they will be easier to bring up (Brandvik and Mcknight 250). In my classroom, I plan to fully utilize technology to keep communication with families open, frequent, and positive. Many teachers utilize official school websites, such as Blackboard or Moodle, to post grades and update assignments. For English Language Arts classrooms, I think it is also beneficial to create a class website that acts as a portfolio for student work. This not only shows that students’ work is valued, but it allows families to observe the work their students are doing and feel more involved in their students’ academic lives. Another way to utilize technology to enhance communication with families is through social media such as Facebook or Twitter. By creating a Facebook group or Twitter account for each class, teachers can update information on class projects and assignments, praise student achievements, and frequently let families know what is going on in class.
As Peterson and Hittie mention, for families of students with special needs, additional care should be taken to let families know that their students are welcome in our classroom (Peterson and Hittie 194). All of the other mentioned practices, such as keeping communication open and frequent and valuing families’ choices, are also essential in building partnerships with families of students with special needs. By working to create a classroom environment that treats each family as unique and valued, families of students with special needs are likely to feel welcome as well.