3 Ways I Build Strong Relationships With My Students’ Families

As a special education teacher, I know that the majority of my job is centered around helping my students learn, grow, and thrive. Something I didn’t realize going into the field, however, was just how critical building strong relationships with my students’ families would be to achieving this goal. I have students on my caseload for multiple years, which provides an amazing opportunity to really get to know them and their families.

In my fourth year as a sped teacher, I am still realizing just how critical it is to support not just my students, but their caregivers as well!

It can sound like a daunting task (and one that will take over precious planning time), but it really is SO worthwhile and so rewarding. I also believe that with a few simple tips, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or a source of stress!

So today, here are my top three tips for building strong family relationships.

1. Leverage local resources

If you are in any mid- to large-sized city, chances are a quick google search will reveal multiple community resources geared towards supporting families who have a child with exceptionalities. Even if you are in a more rural town, it’s still worth searching and seeing what is available in your area!

There are numerous private non-profits dedicated to specific disabilities, churches or religious organizations, AND state agencies that seek to support families caring for a child with disabilities. These outside organizations are AMAZING and it is their literal mission and goal to support families! Compiling a list of these organizations and sending it out to parents is a great first step in empowering your students’ families. You also can visit these organizations’ websites about once a month or so and feature upcoming events or available resources in regular communication to your students’ families.

2. Create routine communication

I know all of us have the best of intentions when it comes to communicating regularly with families! However, things get busy, life gets crazy and it’s easy to let this aspect of our jobs fall by the wayside.

Help hold yourself accountable by creating a communication routine. Even if it’s just a monthly newsletter, that is 10 times a year a parent is hearing from you and getting valuable information about their child’s education! This is a relatively small effort for massive rewards.

Your communication doesn’t have to be cute, so don’t spend too much time worrying about the format or getting it perfect. Simply decide what you want to convey and how often, and work on writing that out at the necessary intervals. You could have a community resource focus, a “what we’re learning in the classroom” focus, or even an evidence-based practice focus (or a combination of the three). There are so many options here and whatever you decide may really help a family out!

3. Be proactive and positive

Parent communication doesn’t have to be anything major or earth shattering! A quick two-sentence email, a post-it note on a take-home folder, or even a phone call goes a really long way. Keep this communication positive and encouraging, and share all the great things you see happening at school!

Routinely sharing positive communication with parents builds trust, creates strong relationships, and communicates that you care about their child and are 100% on their team. This will help make any discussion about a more difficult issue so much easier down the road.

So, there you have my three tips for building strong parent relationships. Share your own in the comments below!

Kelsey Smith is a special education teacher for elementary students on a modified curriculum in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to her current teaching job, she spent one year teaching in an inclusive Kindergarten classroom.  Kelsey completed her bachelor’s degree in special education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and is a proud Commodore. Although she is still a newer teacher, she is looking forward to sharing her insights and classroom experiences with the CEC community. She also shares more ideas on her classroom Instagram account, @exceptionalelementary. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time outside and eating Mexican food. 

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  1. Barbara J Goff, Ed.D.

    Excellent tips. Would like to see more addressing the special considerations when working with linguistically, racially, culturally diverse families. We should also consider families that are single parent, poor, cognitively disabled, grandparents as primary caretakers, separated or divorced and more.

    One other comment, Kelsey…I suggest that, as special educators, we stop using the term “sped” which is now a derogatory term used to berate people with special needs-much like the “r” word. People with IDD don’t like it, so we should take the lead in stopping its use. This isn’t directed at you, Kelsey; it’s commonly used terminology in public schools and teacher prep programs. Let’s support our students and only refer to them in ways they wish to-not just for the sake of shorthand.

  2. Great suggestions!

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