Exploring Family Engagement Ideas for a Distance Learning Environment
Looking for family engagement ideas for the “new norm?” Partnering with the parents and families of your students provides advantages to you, your students, and to their families. Families will have a better idea of what’s happening in school, which also allows them to help support their children at home. Students benefit when they receive encouragement at home. And teachers benefit when learning is reinforced and supported by parents and families.
Communicating and working with parents and families is a particular challenge in a remote learning setting. It’s still our responsibility to connect with parents; and the benefits outweigh any costs in terms of time. Here are three family engagement ideas for distance learning: connect, inform and encourage.
Many partnerships with students’ parents and families are destroyed before they start, because the teacher believes it is someone else’s responsibility to prompt a connection. This was exactly the attitude of a former colleague, who told me, “If a parent doesn’t contact you, that is great. Just lay low, and you’ll be able to do what you want.” If you believe it’s the responsibility of parents and families to communicate and/or follow up with you, that attitude comes through when you talk with them. Connecting with parents is not an extra job; it is part of your job. There is no way you can truly help your students be successful without the support of their parents.
It is beneficial to connect with a parent and child in a live Zoom meeting or Google Meet. Seeing them face to face allows the personal side of you to connect. You can also talk more freely, without possible miscommunication of tone. Students can ask questions in front of their parents and you can clarify, with the parents hearing how you help their child through the problem without giving the answer or solution. These meetings also make it possible to share your screen and literally walk them through how to find information or vice versa: The students can share the screen, which allows you to walk them through their work, providing coaching and guidance. Parents are typically very appreciative of the “meeting” face to face as they are experiencing a new role for which they have not been trained.
Next, keep your students’ parents and families informed. Too often, problems occur when there is a misunderstanding. You’ll want to communicate detailed information at the start of the year, then provide ongoing material throughout the year. How much? That depends on your situation, the parents and families, and your students. However, one parent I spoke with said, “Teachers shouldn’t feel pressure to communicate with me every day—two or three times per week is enough.” Again, the frequency really depends on the needs of your students, which includes their age.
What types of information should you share? That is typically determined by what you want to accomplish. Some parents need more detailed information; others need very little. As I talked with parents who were adjusting to the new “remote reality” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, they shared a variety of comments.
- I’d like to know how to prioritize if we don’t have time to do everything.
- What is the best way for me to help my child?
- How do I know I am doing the right things?
- How will I know if my son or daughter is successful?
As you read their comments, you are probably thinking about information you should provide. One of the goals of parent communication is to provide details about the most crucial aspects of remote learning. In addition to providing general tips for parents, you might also consider creating information sheets about key topics related to your specific content.
Parents often see their child in a different light during remote learning: as a student. This realization is surprising to some; many parents tell me they had no idea their child had such a hard time putting thoughts to paper or following written directions. While this comes as no surprise to you as their teacher, parents may have never seen this side of their child. Coaching them through developmental needs will help tremendously. You may need to remind them that it is normal to some degree, or you may have to explain how you help their child through those difficulties in the classroom.
Providing information to parents will allay some of their concerns, but just as students need encouragement, so do parents and families. Some parents are working at home and trying to help their sons and daughters; some are working and cannot help until the workday ends, and some have multiple children and are simply overwhelmed. And, just like students, some need more encouragement than others. As you build relationships and communicate regularly, you will know when and how to encourage parents and families. Much of your encouragement will be comments that praise what they are doing well, and sharing suggestions in a supportive manner. Your words and any nonverbal cues will make a difference to them. As you look to formats for encouraging families, keep in mind to be flexible when possible with same-day assignment due dates or video call slots to accommodate parents’ schedules as well.
Family Engagement Ideas: A Final Note
Parents are under additional pressure when students are participating in remote learning. They want and need your assistance to help their children be successful. Connecting, informing and encouraging parents will help build a strong partnership. Find more family engagement ideas below.