Unexamined Habit #3: What to do when families just don’t get what you’re doing

Editor’s note: This is the last in our series of blog posts where we’re holding a magnifying glass to the potentially unexamined habits at your school. Review Part 1 & Part 2.


Dear Educator,


Have you ever seen someone try and put a square peg into a round hole? You could probably imagine a little child with wooden toys, trying to force shapes into places where they don’t fit.

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No matter how many times the child tries, and no matter how much force he or she puts behind their efforts, a shape of a different type just won’t conform to where he or she wants it to go.


As adults, we kinda do the same thing at times.


There’s a saying, and maybe you’ve heard it.


One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.



If you’ve ever felt the frustration of trying things over and over again in your classroom or school (like meeting the testing mandates!), only to repeatedly face the same unsatisfying result, this year’s final blog post is for you.


Quick recap in case you’re just joining us now: We’re on month #3 of our conscious habit champion campaign. We’ve been taking time this spring to look at unexamined habits at your school: like how an open door policy could be hurting more than helping and what to do when families just don’t care.


As the FFS team was drafting this one, tears came to our eyes -- so you can bet it’s gonna be good.


Let’s dive right in...


Unexamined Habit #3: The “what do they know?” one-up

Tell-tale symptom: You overhear someone say, “We listen to families, it’s just that some families don’t understand what we’re trying to do here.”

If you hear this at your school, you can be sure someone is holding very tightly to an agenda—an agenda that favors the 3 R’s--readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic –over one very crucial R—relationships.


Last month we learned how important it is to really listen to families. This lays the foundation of a relationship, but actually building that relationship takes time.


It’s natural to feel impatient. You may think— “but when do we get to the stuff I need to teach?”


I remember a math teacher in one of our FFS workshops asking this exact question. I was trying to get him to think about families and he kept coming back to fractions. Between his folded arms and audible sighs I heard the message--”but families are a distraction; I need to teach math.”

I knew this educator had gotten off track. The truth was you could see the grind was wearing him away, and, on top of that, his methods weren’t producing the fraction-loving students he wanted in his classroom. Definition of insanity, remember?


I want to ask you a really straight question. Why did you become an educator?


I’m willing to bet you became a teacher because your heart is two sizes too big and you wanted to make a difference in the life of a child. That’s true for so many of us, and we enter into education by following those feelings and listening to our hearts and our gut.


But somewhere along the path--between district mandates and high stakes testing—the desire to make a difference gets lost.


You’ve been told over and over again “focus on the content…! get these kids to grade-level…!” without being given the time and space to think who are these kids? and what will really make a difference in their lives?


You’ve been tricked into thinking the question is: Do I build relationships or do I focus on content?


When the real question is: How can I build quality relationships so that these kids will really internalize the content that I know they need?


Let me be clear: this content vs relationships battle is a false choice. All teachers have a body of knowledge that must be transmitted, and building relationships with children and their families allows us to successfully teach content and enlarges what we’re able to accomplish.

We call this advanced-level family engagement work.


How would this look in reality? What could you do at this point in the school year?


Try asking yourself: What would I do if I cared more about making a connection than covering the curriculum?


In other words, lean into building relationships, and let your agenda wait. The great news about late Spring? The school year is winding down and testing is over or almost over, anyway.


Here are four ways to get started:

  • Call or text parents and tell them you’re grateful for the opportunity to teach their child.

  • Create an interview unit! Ask students to interview an adult in their lives about something related to your class and share what they learned with the class.

  • Invite a parent to share their family’s favorite “read aloud” book with the class, even if it is in a different language.

  • Ask families what help they could use to continue learning in the summer. Connect them with resources.

You already know what you’d do to just connect with children and families. The 100% truth? You now have the real freedom to do just that. If you’re waiting for a permission slip, you’ve got it!


And know this: whatever results come from focusing on building relationships with families will reverberate into next year when your students and families walk into their next open house night, open to building a relationship with their teacher and school.


The steps you take this month could ripple and grow, potentially altering their perception of learning and education for the rest of their lives… when they look back and say, “that teacher really made a difference to me.”


Remember the math teacher we mentioned at the beginning of this post? After many hours of coaching, he took a leap of faith and focused on relationships with patience.


At the end of the year, he came back to me and said, “Now I get it. I didn’t think we’d get to fractions, but we did. The kids learned it even better than they ever had and I loved teaching them this year.”

You deserve to love teaching your students, too.

We wish you a very happy end of year! And if you made it this far down into the post, take a moment to share with us a memory of your favorite teacher in school and why.


Committed to your success,

Dr. Joni & the FFS Team

P.S. If you have any questions about workshops we host for schools or any other resources we provide to help your classroom and school along your journey, give us a ring.