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Today’s One Thing for Teachers: Remote Family Engagement

Bianca Davila

Bianca Dávila

The Learning Accelerator

Family engagement, a mutual commitment made between educators and families to support whole-child development, is a component crucial to student success. In traditional classroom settings, family and parent engagement has been shown to improve student mastery and social skills, deepen engagement, and minimize behavioral issues. With the shift to virtual learning, engaging with your students’ families is arguably more important than ever.

As student learning is now happening entirely at home, families have more insight than ever on how their children are handling their schoolwork and coping, which leads to our big question this week: How can you remotely engage and connect with families to support student development?

What is engagement and why is it so vital within the remote space? Simply put, family engagement is a partnership between educators and guardians to support student learning and growth. Different from family involvement, engagement is more than volunteering for school functions or one-way communication home; it ensures families have:

  • shared responsibility for student outcomes
  • a voice in their child’s education

Regardless of background, all parents want to help their children and have the ability to provide support in a variety of ways as long as they, too, have access to support. In a COVID-affected world, families are positioned to play an even more vital role in day-to-day learning, providing essential context to teachers regarding students’ lives at home and supporting instruction. It is important for guardians to feel engaged, supported, and confident that they have access to someone who is there to help them when they need it.

How do I engage? It’s likely that you were already engaging families remotely prior to the transition to virtual learning through calls, emails, or classroom apps in addition to in-person connections (e.g., conferences, home visits) The important part now is to create a true partnership with families beyond basic translation of information. To do this, you need to:

  • Create systems to share important information: Decide how families will receive important updates.
  • Offer opportunities for bi-directional, shared dialogue: Gather information from parents and provide them with your insights to create aligned goals and better understand the needs of your students.
  • Provide targeted resources to help support continued learning at home: Share helpful resources with parents to provide guidance around learning at home.

Explore the strategies and resources below to help create your own engagement plan and opportunities for your families to feel both invested and confident in their roles within this new remote space.

1. Create systems to share important information.

You can no longer rely on traditional means (such as handouts or flyers) to keep families up-to-date with important information. As you shift these notices into a virtual setting, ensure that families have access to and know where they can find important updates.

  • Communicate in multiple formats. Just as you offer information for students in multiple formats, do the same for families. Send texts, make calls, record videos, and use your LMS to communicate with parents.
    • Enabling access for all: Calls and videos, in particular, can be helpful ways to get in touch with parents who may have difficulty with literacy, while written forms of communication can be easier to translate for parents who may not be English speakers.
      • Quick tip: Use Google Translate to translate written materials for parents who are not English speakers and utilize Yandex to translate photos with text and websites.
  • Keep parents up-to-date with weekly email blasts. Prioritize overcommunication. When you reach out to parents, let them know what assignments students should be working on this week, when things are due, and when you’ll be available for office hours or to communicate with them. You can also embed helpful resources for families to access all of the information in one place and reduce email clutter.
    • If you use Google Classroom, share weekly guardian summaries of student work. These emails are automated by Google Classroom and can include updates on class activities, upcoming work, and whether students are missing assignments. Share this video with guardians to help them get set up to receive these emails.
    • EdModo and Seesaw also offer real-time updates for parents that allow them to see student scores and assignments. These apps also offer families a way to directly message teachers.
  • Leverage your school’s social media platforms to push out important messages to families, such as reminders about school calendars, community resources, virtual events such as spirit week, or “in-person” events like drive-by parades.

2. Offer opportunities for bi-directional, shared dialogue.

Families should work in partnership with educators to provide support for students. In order to do this, open, two-way streams of communication are needed.

  • Provide families with a way to contact you when needed.
    • If you would like to maintain privacy, use Google Voice to create a second phone number that goes straight to your phone. The app allows you to screen calls so you know who you’re speaking to before you answer. You can set the app to direct calls to voicemail at certain times of the day to help avoid interruptions when you’re not available.
    • Encourage parents to use your LMS (or other interactive apps) to communicate. Your LMS likely offers ways for you to get in touch with parents, and this can provide an easy way for parents to ask questions about assignments or touch base about their child’s work and goals.
  • Hold parent-teacher conferences by video or phone. Just as with in-person conferences, this is an incredibly helpful tool to both share and gain information about your students on academic and social-emotional levels. This can also serve as a time for you to solicit feedback from parents about your remote learning plan.
    • Before sharing your reflections with families, ask what their goals are for their child and to identify their child’s strengths, areas of growth, and interests.
  • Hold a virtual home visit to check in with families on a personal level. Ideally, this would happen by video – seeing a familiar face can provide a source of comfort. If families don’t have the internet bandwidth for a video call, a phone call can work as well. The goal of this conversation is to build and strengthen relationships, so save the academics for a more formal conference. Use this time to assess family needs on a social-emotional level and check in on their physical needs, such as food, utilities, or other urgent challenges that might be met with support from your school district.
  • Offer opportunities for parents to provide feedback around remote learning. Consider replicating this survey that one school district is using to collect feedback from parents to help inform what remote learning will look like in the coming school year. With the chance that in-person learning may not resume in the fall, this tool is a great way to find out what parents have to say about your remote teaching practices so that you can be more informed before restarting in the fall.
    • Similarly, provide parents with your email or encourage them to contact you via your LMS to provide feedback around remote learning so that you can better understand their needs.

3. Provide targeted resources to help support continued learning at home.

Just as educators are feeling overwhelmed with the number of resources out there, it’s likely that parents are feeling the same. If you know of vetted, relevant resources that you believe will be helpful to your parents and the children they support, share what you have to create deeper alignment between home and school.

  • Share Child Mind Institute’s strategies for supporting learning at home. These strategies have been categorized by age, ranging from preschool to college, and help caregivers to better understand how students learn, how to engage with teachers, how to support their students as learners, how to address potential challenges, and what the best schedule is for each age group.
  • Share EdNavigator's One Great Thing. This daily resource is geared towards parents and shares one tip, read, e-learning resource, dinnertime question, and activity to help support children learning at home.
  • Allow the student to become the teacher and the guardian to become the student with PowerMyLearning’s Family Playlists. These playlists allow families to collaborate with the learning and parents to give feedback to teachers about the experience.
  • Explore Wide Open School to find a variety of activities and guidance categorized by age group. There are several activities that parents can engage in with their children as well as a section for family services should parents need additional support over the summer.
  • For parents of students with different learning needs, share the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ COVID-19 Parent Resources. This site provides guidance around key terms and laws for students with learning differences as well as helpful resources for parents.

Check in with us next week for our last post of the school year to learn about summer learning opportunities and continued engagement. You can also follow #TLAOneThing on Twitter to track all of our tips!

If you are looking for additional support to maintain family 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 to connect leaders planning for more robust, comprehensive responses to navigate current challenges with free, customized coaching.

Bianca Davila

Bianca Dávila

The Learning Accelerator

Bianca Dávila is Chief of Staff at The Learning Accelerator. She blends her expertise and passion for educational leadership, team culture, process innovation, and organizational management to support the TLA team.