Building stronger families and stronger communities: Putting the family at the forefront of everything we do

In a February post, we shared effective habits of Toyota Family Teachers of the Year that are detailed in our recent book, Stronger Families, Stronger Communities. This month we explore the first of those habits—putting families at the forefront of everything we do in the classroom. In this post, we’ll consider specific recommendations for looking at family as the core of our work, rather than as part of add-on programs or an extra thing to do.

NCFL Education Solutions

One of the strongest statements about family literacy came from adult education teacher, Cecilia Ramirez, 2001 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year. She said, “Family literacy is more than a program, it’s a value.” Putting that into the context of family, she added, “This value is something we transfer to parents, and parents transfer to their children, because the heart of family literacy is the parent and child working together, with mutual learning for the future, to accomplish their goals. It’s powerful. When we, the teachers, are able to teach a technique or strategy, we transfer the value to the parents, so they can internalize it, and then transfer that skill to their children.”

Honor parents’ experiences and strengths.

This transfer of knowledge and skills from teacher to parent to child is the true essence of family literacy and family learning. However, for this model to work, we must understand and value the families with which we are working. The award teachers remind us that families come to our programs and classrooms with their own strengths. They have vast experiences that they can share with the classroom community. 

Remember that parents are experts on their own children—not the teachers or staff in the program.

Another award teacher discussed the false assumptions that educators often have about families. Teachers might assume that parents do not care about their children’s education or that parents are not interested in school. These assumptions are often false. All parents love their children and want what is best for them. Some parents do not believe they can help their children in school. Teachers can help foster a sense of self-efficacy, so parents feel successful as their child’s first teacher.

Treat families like family. Build relationships.

Additionally, award teachers recommended treating their program families like family. They suggested that schools and programs go out of the way to make families feel comfortable when they are present and stay in touch when they are not. Teachers can build relationships with families, which parents and caregivers will in turn value. Teachers can nurture the family as a whole and advocate for families.

Parents and caregivers want a better life for their children and often believe that education is the key. They come to family literacy and family learning programs for that key to a better life—and they rely on teachers to be there for them and to grow with them, every day. As teachers, we must remember to keep families at the center of our work in order to strengthen the families and our communities.

From teacher to teacher—put families in the forefront of everything you do.

What habits do you have for putting families at the forefront of your work? Please share them in the comments below. And if you are interested in learning more from the wisdom of our Toyota Family Teachers of the Year, look for Stronger Families, Stronger Communities in your online bookstore.