How to facilitate parent-teacher communication during distance learning
Fostering good two-way communication with caregivers is vital for student success in a traditional classroom environment. But when facilitating distance learning, educators are even more dependent on parental engagement to help deliver the best learning experiences for their students.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, many families are dealing with unprecedented amounts of change. This change can be stressful as daily routines are interrupted, families and friends are isolated, and many caregivers attempt to balance working from home while their children learn from home. In some cases, the change to homeschooling has been even more difficult as families deal with grief over a lost loved one, job loss, and their own health concerns. It’s a challenging time for everyone, so it’s important to strive to share communications that are sensitive, clear, and supportive. To help keep the lines of communication open and set your students up for success, it’s best to approach your teacher-parent relationships in a meaningful and strategic way:
1. Explain your strategy.
If you haven’t already, give guardians a clear overview of your expectations and how parents can help keep students engaged and progressing toward their goals. Let them know when they should expect to hear from you, the avenues through which they can contact you, and how you hope the distance learning experience will work. It’s important to set realistic expectations as both you and your students’ families acclimate to a new normal.
Many parents are concerned their children will be set back emotionally or educationally based on their removal from the class environment, so be sure to clearly explain what they can do to make sure their students continue to progress and experience different types of socialization.
You should also make them aware of the technology and tools you’ll be using to facilitate learning. Help parents understand why you’re using these tools, how they work, and what your expectations are for the students as they use them. For example, if LanSchool Air is one of the tools you’re utilizing, you can provide parents with this letter to explain what the software does and how it helps their students.
2. Conduct check-in surveys.
You don’t want to pry, but it’s extremely helpful if you have a sense of the potential stressors each family is dealing with as well as the resources and set-up they have in place for distance learning. Check in occasionally by asking parents for some quick survey responses to homeschooling-related questions or prompts like:
- How do you feel your child is adjusting to distance learning and being away from the classroom?
- How is your family adjusting to the changes?
- How many hours per day does the student have access to a digital device and internet?
- Are multiple family members sharing that device, and if so, is this causing challenges?
- I am most comfortable helping my children with their homework or lessons for [list subjects].
- I am less comfortable helping them with [list subjects or areas of concern].
- In terms of my child’s education or emotional well-being, my biggest concern during this time is [fill in the blank].
- One way I’ve learned to make distance learning easier for my child is [fill in the blank].
- Is there anything in particular I can do to help support your child during this time?
You will likely have a number of other questions that come to mind. Once you know what each family’s concerns and needs are, you can build strategies to help, such as partnering students up for virtual study groups or providing social-emotional resources parents can discuss with their kids.
3. Send Monday Motivation emails.
You know better than anyone the pressure that comes with being responsible for a child’s education. And even though you’re still leading the charge, there’s no question that parents are taking on more responsibility than normal when their children are learning from home.
In the same way you love to be uplifted by your administration and fellow teachers, we recommend lending your students’ parents some support through motivational emails at the beginning of each week. These emails can share your goals for the week, along with inspiring quotes, resources for fun STEAM projects, TED Talks or other speeches on social-emotional learning, or a helpful tip from another parent in the class (you may glean some of these from your surveys, but be sure you get permission to share). Check out our Pinterest boards for inspiration.
You don’t need to spend your weekend creating a long form newsletter, but helping your students’ parents set positive intentions each Monday can be a motivational encouragement for the week ahead.
4. Schedule Q&A times.
Parents will likely have a lot of questions for teachers during this time. It’s a good idea to set expectations for how and when to best reach out to you and to proactively create communication channels for parents to ask more in-depth questions. For example, you could offer:
- Email – Parents can email questions that are highly specific to their children and only require a short response. Teachers should provide parents with an expected response time for these types of questions (e.g. within 24 hours).
- Text – Instruct parents to text you as needed in an emergency. Be sure to set expectations for what types of situations are considered an emergency.
- Weekly office hours – Parents can schedule one-on-one time to ask questions that are highly specific to their children.
- Virtual Q&A forum – Multiple parents can join to ask questions that may be relevant for the entire class, keeping you from answering the same question over and over and allowing parents to learn from each other’s experiences. You may want to schedule these on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Remember, as with in-person conversations, teachers shouldn’t feel pressured to answer tough questions on the spot. If you need more time to come up with a thoughtful answer, simply let the guardian know you will have to get back to them after you’ve had time to research or think about their question.
5. Include parents in progress reports and student one-on-ones.
Since you’ll be delivering student progress reports remotely anyway, it may make sense to include parents in these meetings or emails. Schedule time as needed to discuss how students are progressing, any concerns they have, and how parents can help.
It’s particularly important to allow students some grace right now, as all of the changes they are experiencing can take a toll. You know your students and how to strike the right balance between pushing them to challenge themselves and encouraging them to practice self-care and acceptance.
6. Stay Flexible and Overcommunicate
You may feel like you’re bombarding parents with information, but the fact is, every communication from you serves to alleviate some of the insecurity they’re feeling as they adjust to distance learning. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate and to have a little fun with these communications
And if your weekly plans don’t go as expected, it’s okay to admit when something isn’t working and adjust your course. Like everyone else, you’re learning how to adapt, fail forward, and thrive in the face of uncertainty. It’s a great opportunity to model something you always teach your students — that we learn just as much from our mistakes as our successes.
Ultimately, whether you’re a parent or educator, our encouragement is to accept that it’s okay for you to have limits as you juggle multiple priorities. Just keep trying to do your best – there is no right or wrong way to approach learning from home during this time. And remember to extend grace to yourself along the way.
Learn more about how to receive complimentary LanSchool Air licenses to support distance learning or check out our list of resources to help implement licenses here.
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