This week we have the pleasure of introducing Billie Deig! Billie has a decade and a half of experience in the field, working in a variety of roles–from floater teacher to center director–and now works as a Resource Coach, training, mentoring, and coaching teachers in Head Start. Along the way, she has obtained both an AAS in Early Childhood Education and a CDA, and is currently working on her BA in ECEDU with a minor in Teaching Spanish! In her own words, “I love working for the CAP [Community Action Program] and the Head Start program along with course work and personal research has sparked a passion for everything this forum stands for.”
Given her extensive expertise in working with families, we asked Billie for her suggestions for teachers who want to make sure they are welcoming all families into their classrooms and programs this month. Here’s what she said:
The beginning of a new school year can create feelings of excitement, nervousness, and at times can be a bit overwhelming for teachers. There is a large amount of preparation that goes into setting up a classroom, preparing curriculum, and making sure the I-s are dotted and the T-s are crossed. There is a side of preparation that sometimes we as teachers can overlook and that is the side of our families. Our families may also be feeling excited, nervous, and a bit overwhelmed. With some planning and intentionality we can make sure that all our families feel welcome and confident going in to the new school year.
While there are so many things that can be done to prepare for families I have tried to narrow my long list down to a few suggestions:
RESEARCH! Find out a little bit about your families through basic enrollment information. Does the child have siblings? Are there any special needs to consider? What is the primary spoken language for the family and the child? What does the family system look like? The answers to these questions can give us many ideas about what we will need to create an inclusive and culturally responsive classroom.
Create a welcoming environment! By planning ahead we can make sure each child has a space for personal belongings in the classroom labeled with their name (correctly spelled) and a family photo. A simple survey sent out prior to the start of school can give us ideas about favorites to have on hand for each child. Bi-lingual labeling and paperwork will create feelings of inclusion for families and children that have limited English proficiency. Remember all that research we did using basic enrollment information? The environment is the place to apply it. Imagine walking into a classroom and you see your own photo along with your family’s and everything is labeled in a language you understand.
Programs should have policies in place to include orientation for families prior to the start of school. Families that get to meet their child’s teachers prior to the first day may not have such strong feelings of apprehension or nervousness. It is important for children to see their family interacting with their teachers in a positive loving way. This will help the children transition easier which will in turn help the families with their own transition.
Take time to really connect with each family early on; they must feel welcome and included. Families appreciate knowing that we are genuinely interested in the children and in getting to know them. Please be friendly! If a family thinks we are not fond of their child they could shut down and disengage. This is the last thing we want. Lastly, we must always respect our families. Try to remember that the parent truly is the child’s first teacher.
She also shared the following links to additional articles and helpful resources:
- Cultivating Good Relationships with Families Can Make Hard Times Easier! by Linda Groves Gillespie
- Welcome Children and Families to Your Classroom from Teaching Young Children
Welcoming All Families: Reaching out to families with diverse ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds Q&A with Melissa Correa-Connolly, Rick Ellis, Shiala Higgs, and Lisa Kostaneski
In closing, Billie reminded us that,
In my experiences I have thoroughly enjoyed working with families. I have made mistakes and have learned a great deal from them. A forum like this is exactly what we need to bounce ideas off of one another. Please feel free to comment with more great ideas or questions you may have. Thank you!
All of this fabulousness can be accessed here (Billie Issue Brief) in PDF form. Enjoy!