Engaging Families in Remote Learning

Throughout my #remotelearning series, I have tried to provide practical ideas and strategies that can be used now. One aspect that needs more attention, at least in my opinion, is how we can assist parents throughout this ordeal. It goes without saying that many of them are dealing with some intense challenges such as equitable access to technology, WiFi availability, finding time to assist their kids with schoolwork, and a general sense of not knowing what to do in a remote learning world. Combine this with the added responsibility of working from home themselves, dealing with impending or current unemployment, the stress of not being able to see older relatives, and being a parent, and you can assume that tensions are running high. They need our support and understanding just as much as our learners do. Together we are better, especially in times of crisis.

Educators are stepping up in incredible ways. As I mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to remote learning, there is no single right way. The same can be said in terms of how you engage with parents. Below are some general ideas to consider. By no means is this a comprehensive list. However, as I developed it, I put my parent hat on and took into consideration what I need, what I expect, and how my home district (Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District) is engaging with us. Here are some ideas that you can either embrace if you are a parent or guardian, incorporate into your remote learning plan, or share with those in your community.

Communicate Regularly

In times of crisis, there is no such thing as overcommunication. Consider using all assets available, such as email, social media, phone calls, and Remind. Phone calls can be a great way to find out or share whether or not technology is available. If it isn’t, then you can consider mailing out messages.

Establish a Delivery and Pickup Location for Work

Students need feedback, especially if technology is not being used. Parents also want to get an idea of how their child is doing. In my previous post, I shared how one district was using its bus routes. Work with parents to elicit the most practical ideas to make this work in your community.

Encourage the Development of an At-Home Learning Schedule

Some structure is needed to help kids manage their time, complete assigned tasks, and meet deadlines. Herein lies a great opportunity to work in the competencies of self-management, independent inquiry, pacing, and reflection. For more ideas, check out this post by Adam Drummond.

Ask Parents to Be Honest About What They Need

The list here could get relatively long, and I am not even sure if making suggestions is appropriate. However, below are a few considerations:

  • Technology for kids to complete work
  • Wi-Fi in the form of mobile hotspots for kids to complete work
  • Development of an at-home schedule
  • Special education accommodations
  • Counseling for their kids
  • Counseling for themselves
  • Work to be picked up and dropped off in a no-contact way
  • Ideas on how to help their kids adjust to remote learning

Follow District/School updates

Obviously, the best way is to use social media. As I emphasized in Digital Leadership, a multifaced approach that encourages two-way engagement should be employed. Don’t assume that parents use the same tools as you.

Incorporate Movement and Outdoor Time (if Possible) Into the Day

I cannot emphasize enough that one of the potential pitfalls of any type of remote learning is an extended lack of movement. To counteract this, make parents aware of tools like GoNoodle or encourage them to include movement. There is no better way to incorporate movement while adhering to social distancing than family walks or bike rides.

The ideas above are not the best by any stretch. However, they are practical and can assist with engaging parents and guardians as long as school buildings are closed. On a side note, my wife and I have used the time we now all have together to enjoy family dinner. It might sound cheesy, but I always start by asking my kids how their day of learning was, if they need help from their teachers, or what else they need to be successful. My wife and I then share what we did for work. Since I have traveled so much over the past couple of years, I can’t begin to explain what this time with my family has meant to me. In many cases, we let life get in the way of what is truly important. Herein lies a great opportunity to reestablish or fortify family bonds.

Eric Sheninger is a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Prior to this, he was an award-winning principal at New Milford High School in New Milford, CT. A 2012 Digital Principal of the Year, he has authored six books, including the bestselling Digital Leadership. Follow him on Twitter (@E_Sheninger) or visit his website.

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