4 Keys for Involving Parents in Distance Learning
Starting in March, Schoology began hosting weekly Distance Learning Meet Ups on Fridays to help our users adapt to the sudden shift to learning (and teaching) at home. Each week, a “spotlight educator” shared some tips and tricks on distance learning, followed by Q&A.
On April 17, 2020, we were lucky enough to welcome Susan Murray-Carrico as the special guest for our Distance Learning Meet Up. Susan is from Academy School District 20 in Colorado. She shared some tips for supporting parents during distance learning—and while these are especially relevant now, these are just good tips in general! As she mentioned during the webinar, “As we continue to move forward in this current environment, whether we stay with our doors closed to the end of the school year or whether we have the opportunity to open them back up again, that partnership doesn't disappear. We still have this partnership with our parents and we still need this. But the question is how do we support that partnership in this, in our current environment?”
“But what we really want to remember is that parents were also thrown into this—what I'm going to call emergency remote learning—the same way we were.”
4 Keys for Involving Parents
One of the main keys for involving parents is about building relationships. "A positive relationship with parents is what brings us further along with this emergency remote learning experience,” says Murray-Carrico. But how do we do this? First, we need to be mindful of the unique situation each parent is in. They may be facing uncertainty with their jobs, they may be supporting extended family members, and they might have multiple students at home while also trying to balance their own work schedules. And to be mindful of what parents are doing says Murray-Carrico, “We're going to have to find new ways to listen, ways that we haven't done before. In order to discover this story, we need to be able to communicate with them and hear back.”
Among the suggestions Murray-Carrico shared were surveying parents to better “hear their story,” doing virtual home checks either via phone call or email (so parents feel that critical connection to their child’s school and teachers), and leveraging ways to meet with larger groups at a time (especially helpful for secondary teachers, many of whom have over 100 students as part of their class load). Using virtual meeting spaces can, at least temporarily, provide a community center feeling our parents don’t have physically right now. “It doesn't mean you have to be face-to-face, but when we make those connections with people, we are really building those ties and building that school culture here.”
Many districts—especially larger ones—have departments at the central office dedicated to communication, meaning parents are likely already getting information in various ways from the school or district. So we need to "think about how much communication—when or how often are you going to be communicating and through what means? How are you going to be doing this communication? I like to consider the idea of ‘less than,’ as less is more.”
Since most teachers aren’t responsible for sending out district-wide communication, it helps to at least know when and how things are being sent out widely. If possible, find out if there is a schedule so you can avoid “bombarding” parents with too much on the same day. And, Murray-Carrico suggests, since parents are likely already familiar with certain communication channels, like web pages, email, Schoology updates, and other alerts, try to leverage those existing and familiar channels. “Don't start with something completely new. There are a lot of amazing tools out there that might be absolutely wonderful for you, but if you've never implemented it, if you've never used it, if you've never trained anybody on it, this really isn't the time to do that.”
While some districts may already have 1:1 environments, where parents have an understanding of devices and tools, many districts had to either rely on devices at home or send district-owned devices into students’ homes with little or no warning—and no time to train parents on the tech. As Murray-Carrico points out, “Now you're going to have to troubleshoot a device that's potentially not a district-owned device and you're going to have to figure out, you know, what might be happening. What is their technology setup at home? What is their device set up?”
If you have a district helpdesk or support team in place, be sure that a plan for parents is not only in effect but also widely communicated. Designate an area on the website for what parents should know about the technology and tools their students are using—and provide links to support areas for those tools. Many districts already have pages for this, so check to make sure it’s up to date to help parents at home.
4. Looking Ahead
Parent engagement is a key goal for districts and organizations, but it’s definitely going to look different as we move forward. Despite the uncertainty of what might happen in the fall, there is no doubt that parents will continue to be even more involved with learning at home. And we will need to make adjustments to the way we build relationships, communicate, and support their involvement.