The Establishing Strong Family-School Connections Module offers educators suggestions and tools for engaging students and families whether learning occurs in a building or in a virtual environment. Students learn best when families and school work together, and creating connections is crucial to learning from the first day of school and throughout the year.


  1. Recall a variety of strategies for making both in-person and distance learning connections with family and students from the first day of school and lasting through the end of the year.
  2. Foster connections with families beyond mere communication through relationships and partnerships.
  3. Explore effective communication platforms that facilitate building connections with parents and students.
  4. Focus on ways to encourage student autonomy (interest, choice, etc.).
  5. Ask students and families how you can best serve them.
  6. Create connections with families based on equity and family agency

Communicating With Students from MO DESE on Vimeo.

To view individual chapters, select the chapter from the choices on the right.

Reflective Questions:

  1. What challenges, opportunities, and benefits do I foresee in building strong family-school connections at the start of the year?
  2. What can we do to maintain strong family-school connections throughout the school year, both as teachers/staff and collectively as a school?
  3. How can we support, empathize, and partner with families to equitably provide for each child’s school work, development, learning, and growth?

PowerPoint Presentation:

Module Presentation

Resource Document:

Module Resource Document


Maria Derner
MS Spanish Teacher
Harrisonville School District
Laura Gilchrist
Vice President
Chris Holmes
HS Special Education
Special School District / Hazelwood
Albert Sanders
Pre-K Teacher
St. Louis Public Schools

Professional Biographies

Maria Derner

María Derner is a middle school Spanish teacher in Harrisonville, MO at Harrisonville Middle School. She has 30 years of experience and is passionate about teaching and providing all students with a high-quality education. Through her lessons, Maria instills a sense of respect and acceptance of other cultures. Maria nurtures diversity in her classes by establishing real-life connections with Spanish speaking cultures outside her classroom. She believes that every student can learn and succeed when provided with a safe and empathetic environment. Maria loves integrating technology in her classroom to engage her students and to bring authentic experiences to them. She is a National Board Certified teacher with several degrees, certifications, and awards, including Missouri Regional Teacher of the Year 2020.


Laura Gilchrist

Laura Gilchrist is a teacher turned consultant and ParentCamp Vice-President on a mission to help every Family-School-Community connect, strengthen and collaborate as ONE TEAM for kids! In that mission, Laura and ParentCamp focus on two things. First, as practitioners, they organize weekly Virtual ParentCamp experiences for family, school and community from across the nation. Secondly, they train family-school-community engagement teams to become fluent in designing Virtual ParentCamps for connection and collective efficacy around their own kids and communities. Laura taught the most amazing and beautiful middle schoolers for 20 years in Kansas City and proudly considers herself a teacher above all else. Laura was a 2014 Missouri State Teacher of the Year State Finalist and she received the 2014 Christa McAuliffe Pioneer in Education Award from Northland Chamber of Commerce.


Chris Holmes

Chris Holmes is a secondary teacher with 19 years of experience that includes English, Journalism, Gifted/Talented, Special Education, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Dropout Prevention. After 16 years in the Clayton and Hazelwood school districts, Chris left public education to help found Miriam Academy, a private school for students who learn differently. This fall, he is returning to public education this in a special education role. His specific interests/expertise revolve around autonomous motivation. In 2009, Chris was selected as the Governor’s Council on Disability Educator of the Year; in 2015, he was selected as Missouri Teacher of the Year. Last year, Chris traveled to 48 states, interviewing 235 people (mostly adolescents) about academic apathy and motivation, and he is currently writing about the relevance of student voice.


Albert Sanders

Albert Sanders has been a teacher for 20 years, 16 of which have been in Pre-K at Adams Elementary in the St. Louis Public School District. In 2019, he was the St. Louis Public School District Pre-K teacher of the year, Emerson Excellence in teaching recipient, as well as Missouri Regional Teacher of the Year. He currently serves on the SLPS Recruitment and Selection Fellowship, Missouri’s Grow Your Own Committee and the Missouri Educational Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Group. He also a Tomorrow Builder Fellow through the WEPOWER program whose focus is on providing equitable and quality early childhood education in the St. Louis region. He believes all students can meet high expectations with support from caring and quality educators. He received his Educational Doctorate in Educational Practice from the University of Missouri – St. Louis in December 2019 with a focus on Making the Neighborhood School the Number One Option.