When I was teaching, I really looked forward to parent conferences. Each of my students had a folder filled with assessments, writing samples, and other pertinent evidence of learning growth (or needs for improvement). Students facilitated their conferences, talking about what was in their folders, and gaining a sense of accountability and ownership of their learning. Afterwards, I’d talk with the parent(s), grandparent(s), or guardian and inevitably get to know about other family, their work, and family plans. Parent conferences gave me a sense of deeper connection to my students through their families. That connection would start a bit at Back to School Night, but a one-on-one, sit down convo was much better than the 30-minute “this is who I am and what I expect” show and mingle in the second week of school.
Throughout the years, building and fostering relationships with the school community was a goal of mine. I was the outsider driving into the community. They needed to know I genuinely cared about their children, their experiences, their world. I know I am not alone in saying that these relationships are vital. Yet, with the sudden change to distance teaching and learning, how has everyone stayed connected? Do the different members of a school community – administrators, teachers, students, parents, support staff – feel connected now?
Of course, with added responsibilities on both sides of distance teaching, communication is not 100% guaranteed for a variety of reasons. In a study conducted by Learning Heroes (belearninghero.org), parental appreciation for teachers grew during school closures and they generally felt more connected to schools, but few felt they were receiving communication in methods most helpful to them, such as phone calls and texts. (For more on this study, click Learning Heroes Survey Results.) In addition, there are the feelings of exhaustion and mental stress from parents and teachers having to take on roles they were not adequately trained for, or even wanted. Yet, they persevere because, ultimately, it’s the children’s well-being and success that matters most.
Here are some great suggestions from a quick search of the internet on ways to maintain parent-school connections and relationships:
- Regularly check in with parents via email, phone calls, text, and video posted on the class/school YouTube channel. There are also Instagram and Facebook tools for messaging and posting live videos.
- A weekly newsletter with enrichment and extension activities, as well as links to resources and videos to support learning at home.
- Schedule, when possible, meetings using a video conferencing tool such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom. These face-to-face conversations go a long way in nurturing relationships and creating a culture of empathy.
There are also more novel ways of reaching out to students that have been shared in media:
- “Car parades” for school staff and families to see one another, albeit briefly, fostering a sense of unity.
- Teachers appearing at students’ homes, at a safe distance, to have short conversations with students and parents, offering help as needed.
- Mailing cards and letters to parents and students, especially for those who cannot access email or video conference.
Many districts are out for the year, with the rest wrapping up within weeks. There is still much uncertainty about how schools will provide safe environments for instruction in the coming school year. Continue to reach out to school families, even taking a few minutes out of each day to send a text or two. That text can make the difference between feeling cared about and part of the school community, or feeling unheard and doubting the concern educators have for their children.
With alternative learning environments under consideration, maintaining strong family-school relationships and communicating clearly and frequently within school communities remains more important now than ever.