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Why the Bridge?

Building the Bridge started nearly 20 years ago...

Building the Bridge started nearly twenty years ago when I was new teacher. Tim transferred into my class. Tim had been in two other 10th grade English classes. Those teachers described him as disruptive, obstinate, failing--a real bad apple. The principal told me that my class was the last option. If Tim screwed up again, he was out.

That first day in class, Tim was quiet and scared. He was coopertive-ish and didn’t do any of the things I had heard about him. But he wasn’t the model student either. He mostly stared into space. I didn’t push him but I did ask him a question or two. He seemed to be thinking, if I stay quiet and nobody notices me, maybe I won't get in trouble.  

But I did notice him and I wanted to make sure he knew that. Before I left school that day, I did something that completely changed me as a teacher. I called Tim’s father. After a few rings, he picked up. When I explained that I was Tim’s new teacher, I heard his father let out a big sigh and say, “Ok. Whaddaya he do this time?”

“No, no. Nothing. He was great. Today was his first day and he did great. I know Tim has had a rough time and I know that transferring into a new class is hard but he really started things off right. I know you guys might not have gotten a lot of positive calls for Tim and I wanted to make sure you got this one. I’m looking forward to having him in my class and if there’s anything I can do to help him be successful, I want to do it.”

His dad softened. He thanked me. And he told me to call him anytime.

Now, if this were a movie, the next thing you would expect me to say was that Tim transformed, that I never had any trouble from him and he passed the class with flying colors. But this is real life and real life is messy. Tim wasn’t perfect. His parents didn’t always answer the phone. But I can say that Tim did pass my class and he did learn how to write better. And he did really try to behave. And when he screwed up and I had to reprimand him, neither he nor his parents ever doubted that I was on his side. Not once.

Tim and his parents knew my class was his last chance and that helped him behave. But with the phone call they learned that I wanted to work with them as a partner, not as warden, and that helped him actually learn.

That is the power of parent engagement. That is the power of a home/school connection. That is the power of a partnership.

I’ve spent the rest of my career chasing that home/school partnership. As a teacher I’ve had my fair share of parents who don’t return phone calls or show up to meetings. But I have also had some more Tim’s and I’ve learned that the difference between getting kids to behave and getting kids to learn, starts with the parents.

Then I became a parent and I realized it’s not any simpler from the other side of the school door. My kids have had teachers who communicated poorly, who rebuffed any efforts to bring learning outside the classroom, who told me in a myriad of subtle ways--What I'm doing here has nothing to do with you. They’ve also had amazing teachers who treated me as important partner and I can't tell you how grateful I was for that.

I want to transform the way parents and teachers work together. This is where I'm starting. 

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