There is a strong connection between welcoming families to school and engaging families in an effective partnership. When families feel welcome, they are more likely to participate in school activities, support learning at home, share their thoughts and ideas, and advocate on behalf of their child, school, and community.
What does it look like when we welcome families to the school?
Help families know where to go
A welcoming school is one where there is visible signage to a parking area that has adequate visitor/family parking spaces. Families will feel more comfortable if there is ample and clearly marked parking that visitors can find easily. Designating parking for visitors in the same way that it is designated for school leadership and staff sends the message that families and visitors are honored and welcomed to the campus as important members of the school community.
To orient families within the school, install signs that clearly mark the way to the front office. While the entrance to the office may seem obvious, it may not be apparent to a new family coming to your school for the first time. Another positive way to convey a welcoming atmosphere is to display a prominent sign welcoming families and visitors to the school community. Also consider whether the welcoming message or the security message is more powerful upon entering the building (the balance should skew toward welcoming!).
Think in terms of customer service
An integral component of creating a climate that welcomes all families and visitors is customer service, including telephone and email, particularly from office staff. Frontline staff should have the opportunity to participate in yearly professional training to develop and enhance these skills. School leadership has the responsibility to communicate “customer service expectations” and ensure staff has the knowledge and resources to provide quality service at all times.
Define what family engagement means in your school or district
Another way to create a welcoming school culture is to define family engagement, so there is a consistent understanding among all staff—from educators to security and maintenance—of what it means to be “engaged.” Administration, staff and parents should work together to develop a school-wide definition of family engagement. Once developed, share and promote the definition of family engagement to staff and families at every opportunity much like a mission statement, (i.e., school-to-home communications, newsletters, staff meetings, website, etc.)
Building trust is essential to establishing strong teacher-family partnerships and creating a welcoming and inviting culture. Here are five simple tips for cultivating a trusting relationship with families:
Try to meet families before the school year begins. Make a phone call, send a note or email or conduct a relationship-building home visit
Establish an open-door visitor policy. Let families know you welcome visits to classrooms and the school
Find opportunities to share positive news with families
Treat families as individuals. Remember, there is not a one-size fit all strategy to engage families.
Meet families where they are and honor them for their contributions (big or small!)
Creating a welcoming school culture is the foundation for building a strong home-school partnership. The time you take to make your school welcoming and inviting will pay dividends in the form of positive relationships with families. How you put out the welcome mat to a family school partnership makes all the difference.
Photos via: Selma Elementary School, Johnston County School District (NC); West Point School District (MS)