Building relationships with families through dialogue journals
Kay, Amy McMichael
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A disconnect often exists between the worlds of school and home particularly with lower income children and their families. Part of this disconnect is evident in the missed understanding of what counts as parent involvement within the educational system and the importance of teachers developing meaningful relationships with families. I posit that the use of tools, such as dialogue journals, is evidence of parent involvement and there is a need for these less traditional types of involvement to be recognized, valued, and encouraged. The purpose of this critical action research study was to explore the relationships that developed, or failed to develop, when I used dialogue journals to communicate with the diverse families in my classroom and to examine what I learned about culture through using the journals. My research was informed and guided by the work of Freire (1970, 1992, 1998) as he discussed the importance of dialogue with people, in this case families, not just at them; the concept of funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) which recognizes and places emphasis on the students’ and families’ culture as something to be incorporated into classroom practices and relationships; and numerous scholars whose work is related to working with diverse populations and children of color (Allen, 2007; Delpit, 1995; Heath, 1983; Jones, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Nieto, 1999, 2002; Paley, 1979/1989). In the Third Space (Gutierrez, 2008) of our journals, some of the families and I engaged in sustained, two-way communication which resulted in the development of trust-based relationships. The student was our primary focus and we discussed academic and behavioral achievements and concerns of the child, as well as our lives and experiences outside of school. We were able to talk with and listen to each other in the safe, co-created space in our journal. “Communication becomes effective when teachers listen with respect, so that the stories and wisdom of families can be heard, acknowledged, responded to, and valued” (Kay, Neher, & Lush, 2010, p. 417). The dialogue journals gave me the opportunity to listen in this way and allowed families and me to speak with each other.