This is a guest post by Barbara Gruener, B.S., M.S., M.S., a speaker and character coach from Texas.
About ten years ago, Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX received the National School of Character distinction. A significant part of our culture was (and remains) the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. It was during this time that we were looking for new ways to use these 11 principles in our journey down Character Road.
We wanted to put Principle 10 – The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort – into practice in a way that we hadn’t done before. Already hosting outreach events like Meet and Greet, Open House, GRANDparents Day, Math Night, Literacy Night, and Family Character Night to bring our students’ caring adults into our school, we wanted to creatively connect with caregivers, too. It was important to show and tell them that they matter to us, that we value their voices, that they belong here, too. We wanted a meaningful way to invite their insight into our character-building efforts.
We wanted to see our learners through their eyes. What if we gave our parents, guardians, caregivers some homework of their own? What if we asked them to tell us about their child(ren)? What if we posted their creations on a visual display? Our Character Crew brainstormed and came up with the idea of super homework for caregivers.
The Parent Homework
What is Your Super Power?
That year, our Red Ribbon & Character Week theme was Character Is Our Superpower. We sent a blank template (view here) home to parents and caregivers that requested a drawing or a paragraph showing us their child’s superpower. To get their creative juices flowing, we added these questions:
- What character trait would you consider your child’s superpower?
- What do they value?
- What are they passionate about?
- What are they really good at?
- What do they care about?
- How do they put that trait into action?
We were supercharged by their enthusiastic response!
The responses we received from the parent homework helped us to create a breathtaking bulletin board filled with affirmations and shout-outs of service, strength, hope and love.
Coloring The World
Based on the enthusiastic response of Character Is Our Superpower, we decided to try it again. This time, our theme Color The World With Character would drive the parent homework assignment. Here are some stunning examples the adult masterpieces, posted in our cafeteria so that our students could savor the sentiments of while waiting in the lunch line.
Our Character Colors painted an incredible canvas of pride and joy.
Sharing Our Heartbeat
This kind of parent and caregiver feedback became a tradition with different variations and tasks. One year, for our 100-day celebration, we sent home red and pink hearts pre-cut from construction paper and asked families to share what they loved about our school. Again, we were blown away by the heartfelt responses, like this one:
We posted their inspiring feedback in a beautiful heart-shaped display that read: 100+ Reasons We Love Bales Intermediate.
Another time, during an Open House, we provided a You Can card and invited our visitors to write messages to their students, encouraging them to dream big by telling them what they know that they can do.
So many uplifting comments, but if I had to pick a favorite, it’d have to be: You Can … Be a rainbow of joy. Imagine the feeling of seeing that treasure on the wall at your school in your mom or dad’s handwriting.
Positive feedback and gratitude reflections from our parents, guardians, and caregivers as well as from visitors in our building encouraged us to continue this promising practice for almost a decade.
How do you bridge the distance from school to home to help foster caring connections and build meaningful, sustainable relationships with the stakeholders in your character-building efforts?
Barbara Gruener, B.S., M.S., M.S., is a nationally-recognized speaker, character coach, and connected educator (@BarbaraGruener) who thrives on positively influencing change, passionately helping people create lifelong connections, and intentionally improving school culture and climate. She was blessed with 34 years in public education serving as a Spanish teacher, an English teacher, and a school counselor while growing alongside students from every age and stage, grades PreK through 12 before beginning her encore career. The author of What’s Under Your Cape? and The Corner on Character blog, Barbara lives in Texas with her husband and their three children.