With little to no time to prepare for the transition from the physical classroom to the virtual one, educators did the best they could this spring to adapt and provide instruction for students finishing out the school year. And while terms such as “remote learning” and “distance learning” became more prominent in our already expansive educational lexicon, the truth is, many schools across the world were doing what I call “educational triage” to reach their learners.
On the other side of that triage comes home life. Parents also have been thrust into this with no warning, and many still struggle to balance helping their kids learn and navigating their own obligations and responsibilities. Districts have been connecting with parents for years via websites, but those platforms were largely used to promote events and post board meeting notes. Now, there is much more scrutiny as parents look for support to help with the transition to learning at home.
Districts have deployed these five strategies to ways to support parents during remote learning.
1. Consistent Communication
While the occasional general email blast is still valuable, districts need to step up their game when it comes to communicating schedules, platforms, and expectations for students and families.
In the quick transition to remote learning, many district leaders were caught between a rock and hard place when it came to communication platforms; although many had official ones, some teachers were comfortable with other tools (such as Remind, Bloomz, SeeSaw, etc). Trying to decide between platforms could bring unwanted stress on either the teacher (who would be forced to learn and use the district platform) or on the parents (who could have to navigate multiple platforms for multiple kids), so many districts just got by with whatever method worked.
One of the better approaches I’ve seen is when a district leader promotes a single platform of communication and provides training and support for teachers on that preferred system. They encourage teachers to make the shift without requiring it, which is a softer way to make the transition.
Social media -- be it Twitter blasts, YouTube channels, or Facebook Live -- have become important secondary methods of providing the same information that is on a district website or email, but in a more digestible form. Interconnecting all of these platforms ensures that the same message is being sent through multiple online platforms, where parents are sure to see.
2. Providing Tutorials and Cheat Sheets
With the proliferation of digital tools that flooded into homes overnight, many parents felt as if they were being forced to drink from a virtual fire hose. Curriculum-based websites or Learning Management Systems they might have heard their child reference beforehand suddenly became the mainstream interface for learning within the home.
While some students are adept with these resources, many parents lack the basic awareness of how these are to be used. Teachers are great at giving verbal instructions and just-in-time feedback while in a physical classroom, but providing written or video instructions for students is a new approach for many. Mom and/or dad having to sift through emails for clues as their child tries to decipher what the teacher is asking for can be a stress multiplier.
Seeing a need for better and more consistent instruction, many districts have quickly spun up websites for distance learning that include simple step-by-step explanations and short tutorial videos on how to access the necessary learning platforms, and even provide expectations around usage. Additional one-page “cheat sheets” can offer easily referenced extra support and respite for parents from the deluge of information infiltrating their home.
3. Host a Parent Academy
Parent academies or boot camps are not a new invention in education. Schools have long hosted various events aimed at building a common support structure for students between home and the classroom. When my former district went 1:1 with iPads, we developed an online “Digital Parenting 101” course for parents to take on their own time to educate them on the tools and create awareness of the benefits.
Now that meetings in physical spaces for a “parent night” are currently out of the question, developing such online academies are increasingly more valuable. For example, an academy around strategies for using mandatory edtech tools can help educate parents and ease any confusion caused by the increase of new platforms, websites, apps, and systems at home.
4. Virtual Announcements
School administrators have quickly embraced the power of video to get out messages.
Free and easy-to-use platforms such as YouTube or Facebook Live can provide a quick method for recording and producing videos to put out to the community without a lot of technical logistics to navigate. Self-recorded videos can be embedded in an email or posted on a website, and can include a “joke of the week” or another fun challenge to help support both the mental and emotional health of families.
Combining these announcements with the communication platforms mentioned in the first strategy can help support parents through multiple modalities.
5. Helping with At-Home Learning
Most parents are not certified educators. Even those who are educators, know that there are struggles when teaching their own kids. When we shifted to remote learning, some schools went a synchronous approach (live sessions) while others went with an asynchronous approach (prerecorded plans, activities, and instructions). Both of these approaches put pressure on the parents, especially in the case of an asynchronous learning environment.
In these environments, the students are given their work expectations for the week, and these are also sent to families via an email or LMS (Learning Management System). Parents need a guide or a cheat sheet to follow for the moments when their students are working independently. We don’t intrinsically know how much a student should be struggling and how much we should be helping.
The following resources can help parents with learning at home:
- The Work-From-Home Parent’s Guide to At-Home Learning During COVID-19
- Parents Guide to Distance Learning
- Parents Guide to Online Learning
- How Parents Can Help Kids Learn From Home
- A Parent’s Guide for Teaching at Home
The future of what school will look like in the fall is still uncertain. This summer, schools will be planning, preparing, and training staff on strategies to support parents and students regardless of what learning looks like in the future. By thoughtfully deploying some of the strategies above and refining communication platforms, everyone involved will be more equipped to navigate this “new normal” in education going forward.