One of the upsides of the country’s forced march into virtual learning was the increased level of parent engagement in their children’s education, much of it out of necessity.
Parents, who prior to the pandemic would perhaps monitor their kids’ homework assignments and periodically check in with teachers, were thrust into a far different role. While home with their students during online classes, many parents became connected with schools like never before.
Parents and caregivers also gained new insights into their kids’ schooling while taking on new roles as learning coaches. And given their increased importance in monitoring and advancing student learning, effectively communicating with parents became a high priority for many schools. I wrote about this in an article last year, highlighting some ways schools were upping their communication game.
A side benefit of the concerted effort by schools to outfit students with laptops and Internet connectivity for remote learning has been that more parents have the access needed to connect with their kids’ schools and teachers. And the new federal CARES Act and Emergency Broadband Benefit program monies aimed at increasing students’ home bandwidth should help advance these opportunities for parents and families.
In the rush to return to normalcy, it’s important that schools not push aside some of the successful solutions they adopted to engage with parents when campuses were closed.
Technology can both create and remove obstacles for parents and caregivers. But with a continued push to educate families on how to make best use of the tech tools at hand, schools can further engage parents as partners in their students’ learning. And there are many tech tools and methods that schools began using in earnest during the pandemic that need to stick around.
Learning Management Systems. In many schools, the LMS became the backbone of remote learning programs. When organized in a timely and easily navigable way, they provide students and parents with access to assignments, learning resources and communication channels, and can serve as each classroom’s virtual filing cabinet. Schools need to continue maintaining a hardy LMS presence and to keep parents current on how best to use these systems.
Video conferencing for parent-teacher conferences. Begun as a necessity during the pandemic, there’s no reason schools should stop offering parents this virtual meeting option. It’s helped increase participation in these often under-attended events, and will continue to give busy parents more opportunities to engage.
Virtual school meetings and functions. Even as schools are reconvening face-to-face events, some families aren’t comfortable returning, or simply prefer to participate virtually. For them, schools are learning to leverage technology to offer parents and families opportunities to join in. Providing translation services — perhaps via a system such as FreeConferenceCall.com — can be an added benefit.
Livestreaming school performances and games. With audience sizes limited — by personal choice or district decree — some schools have begun live casting these events over the web. As a result, they’ve reached new audiences beyond likely attendees. Distant families and friends are able to watch kids participate in sporting events, musical and theater productions, robotics tournaments and the like. Putting students in charge of hosting and producing these streamed events could also give them opportunities to develop marketable skills.
Focusing on one or two communication tools. Even prior to the pandemic, parents complained about too much information from their schools coming at them from too many directions — web pages, emails, robocalls, text messages, Facebook pages, LMS bulletin boards and printed missives — or about being left in the dark due to too little actionable information. As a result, many schools have focused on using just a couple of key communication tools, and in ensuring parents and caregivers know what they are and how to access them.
A recent EducationWeek article describes results from a teacher survey where three-quarters indicated that parent-school communications increased during the pandemic, and many said it did so by “a lot.” Likewise, the surveyed educators believed this communication increase led to marked improvements in students’ academic progress.
So with all of the losses that need to be regained as schools continue the process of reopening, this is no time for educators to ratchet down their communication channels with parents and families. Rather, the past two difficult years have given schools new ways to engage using some basic technology tools, and all will benefit if they continue to take advantage of these opportunities.
Kipp Bentley is a senior fellow with the Center for Digital Education. He has been a teacher, a librarian, and a district-level educational technology director. He currently writes and consults from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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