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Today’s One Thing for Leaders: Engaging and Supporting Families and Teachers Over the Summer

Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones

The Learning Accelerator

Schools are more than places children go to learn. They are safe havens and social safety nets, particularly for our most vulnerable children. While gaps in access and resources have been exacerbated during the global pandemic, remote learning models helped educators and leaders alike keep connected with students and aware of their wellbeing. As summer approaches and teachers close down their Zoom rooms, schools will be pressed to continue providing support for children, families, and staff during the ongoing crisis.

Assuming physical school buildings remain closed this summer, the big question is: What can school leaders do to provide continued support and engagement throughout the summer?

Engaging and Supporting Families

Family engagement is a key lever for increasing student achievement. Connection, communication, and conversation over the summer break will be vital for students and the broader community to continue feeling supported and ready to go back to school in the fall – however that may look!

Here are some ways school leaders can engage and support families remotely this summer to pave the way for a successful start in the fall:

  • Plan communication: Having a clear vision for communication throughout the summer will help you plan for and execute a strategy that reaches the most families possible. As leaders, we should never leave communications to chance. By clarifying their goals, leaders can employ the right approaches that work for their context.
    • Develop and share your summertime communications calendar. Continue regular and routine communication over the summer by creating a schedule. Being proactive about reaching out to families helps to maintain connections. Here are four ideas for engaging families virtually. When families know when they can expect to hear from you, they’re more likely to listen; having a predictable and routine schedule provides dependability and cultivates trust. In addition to sharing your schedule, you can let families know how you’ll be communicating (i.e., through what channels) and what you’ll be sharing with them. Remember, this strategy may require additional efforts to contact hard-to-reach families and students via phone, text, or even driving by to check on a child’s wellbeing.
      • Common Sense Education has put together a resource on applications and platforms that allow teachers to stay in touch with students and families.
      • XQ developed a resource around staying connected and promoting mental and emotional wellbeing.
    • Host remote/virtual office hours. Parents will likely have a lot of questions about school openings. Consider including periodic office hours for families in your communications calendar to allow them to gather information and ask you direct questions.
    • Use phone/text trees to stay in touch. Throughout the summer, think about calling or sending text messages to families and students to check on their wellbeing and make sure they have the most up-to-date information.

  • Create shared dialogue: Too often, school is something that happens to parents, rather than with parents. The global health crisis has pushed schools to create deeper partnerships with parents to collectively solve the challenges we are facing. Two ways you might create space for shared dialog include:
    • For a broader audience of families, allow school leaders to take an assessment of the community through administering surveys and gathering feedback.
    • For a small group of parent representatives, give parents direct connection with school leaders and allow your leaders to work with families to test ideas, problem-solve, and stay engaged. This group may be your current PTA, a special task force brought together to support communications efforts for hard-to-reach families, or a group that can help provide insights into the challenges around contingency plans. In all of these cases, designing solutions alongside your target audience will help inform quality approaches.
      • Leverage your current PTA to engage families who have already accepted specific responsibilities around communications, engagement, and support, like in this example from Dallas ISD.
      • Alpha Academy uses an ongoing parent task force to help solve problems at school.
  • Build a family toolkit: Families are likely overwhelmed. From having to move learning into the home this spring and a spectre of summer without childcare and canceled summer programs, families are feeling – and will continue to feel – the burden of closures. School leaders can support families by building a toolkit that gives them concrete resources and strategies specific to their needs. You may already be tapped into the needs of your community, or you may consider launching a survey to gather feedback from families that will allow you to develop targeted support.

Additional family support resources:

Resources to engage students during the summer:

Engaging and Supporting Teachers

Teachers want to be successful in their jobs. They know the work they do matters in the lives of children – and, in turn, they know their effectiveness matters. That can be a significant burden to carry, especially knowing that the stakes will be even higher when schools resume in the fall. School closures have, without a doubt, had an impact on student learning, and teachers will feel the pressure of closing any gaps that have been widened by a sudden disruption in learning this spring. Here are some ways to continue supporting your teachers so they know they are not alone and understand that you are there to support them through these trying times, even into the summer.

  • Create spaces for teacher check-ins over the summer. Teachers often take the opportunity for a much-needed break from school activities during the summer. However, unusual circumstances require new approaches. The abrupt changes that happened this spring can cause teachers to rethink their trajectory in the profession, and being forced into remote teaching has taken a toll on teachers that may be hard to recover from. Principals who continue to engage teachers over the summer with consistent check-ins by phone, email, or video chat will be able to monitor their teachers’ wellbeing and ensure they feel supported and have someone to go to if they have concerns.
  • Design a teacher task force for contingency planning. This task force will help keep teachers engaged over the summer as they help plan for the return to school in the fall. Allowing teachers to have input on contingency plans helps them stay invested in whatever ultimately gets executed and calls on their creative thinking to help inform the planning process.
  • Set the tone for self-care. As leaders, our teams often take cues from us. If school leaders aren’t modeling self-care practices, then it is likely our teachers will not prioritize these practices. Serving as a proactive model for these practices will give teachers permission to take care of themselves and, ultimately, will help them better support students over the summer and when school resumes.
    • This resource from NCLD maps out different fitness apps and ideas, mental health exercises, and family activities.
    • This article from The 74 shares information about organizations that are supporting teachers directly.
    • This resource from SmartBrief compiled five strategies for combating “WFH”-based burnout.
  • Ensure effective onboarding for incoming teachers. While many of our typical practices were disrupted this spring, many schools still have staffing needs. Incoming teachers who have been recruited over the spring still deserve a great onboarding experience, as mapped out in last week’s Insight. Putting time and energy into planning out how newly hired teachers will join the team can help support their engagement over the long term.

Next Steps

If you are looking for additional support to continue family and teacher engagement throughout the summer and into the fall, The Learning Accelerator (TLA), in partnership with several organizations, has launched the Always Ready For Learning Network, which can help connect leaders who are planning robust, comprehensive responses to current challenges with free, customized coaching.

Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones

The Learning Accelerator

Jeremy Jones is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator, where he brings insight to TLA's schools and systems strategy work. Jeremy has spent 15 years working alongside students and families in schools across the country to close the academic achievement gap.