Administrator and Teacher Tips for Communicating with Families During COVID-19

As an active social media consumer and educational consultant, I have witnessed incredible shifts in education across the country since March. While a global pandemic has required educators to shift to new policies, procedures, and practices, some things remain the same. We know the success of any student is a partnership among the student, the educators, and the family members. Now more than ever, the ways in which we connect with parents or caregivers to build that successful partnership is vital.

In recent months, life has become exceptionally harder for families. Some have self-selected virtual learning for their kids, while others have had no other choice because their district has moved to this format for safety reasons. In order to maintain positive and open lines of communication, the success of learning requires strong leadership.

Tips for School Leaders

As a K–12 administrator, consider the following actions when it comes to interacting with students’ families in this unprecedented time.

1. Conduct focus groups.

Communicate directly with families and students to inquire about their experiences with remote or hybrid learning. Perception is reality, and there’s no better way to gain perspective than by asking the folks involved. Based on your focus groups’ feedback, create a list of positives (what to keep) and a list of opportunities (ways to improve). Share the findings with your teachers and family members. Let the families know you are listening.

2. Host live weekly updates.

Your typical channels of communication from yesteryear are gone. Weekly newsletters that went home, take-home folders for students with information, and meetings are no longer consistently reliable. The main way you can meet with families is to host live weekly updates. Keep the update brief—most people don't like watching long videos. Less is more. Have one or two topics that you want to make your families aware of—perhaps it’s the importance of a routine at home, or maybe it’s how to check students’ progress on assignments.

Offer these videos live and also record them. They become great resources to share both in the moment and in the days to come.

3. Start family intervention early.

One of the challenges I’m hearing over and over again is that remote students are not attending their classes online. At this point in the year, educators are overwhelmed and frustrated. This has been building over the semester, and it’s nearly impossible to solve—at least this semester. January starts a new opportunity.

“Now more than ever, the way in which we connect with parents or caregivers to build [a] successful partnership is vital.”

We need to ensure we have the proper support in place to intervene early and often. As the semester starts, provide a list of expectations where family members have to sign off on their agreement to the learning experience. Then, if a student misses a day, we have to make a call to find out why. This begins to create the expectation that we are serious when it comes to learning online. We have to be mindful that this may be laborious in the beginning. But we are setting the expectation that we want virtual learning to happen for all students.

4. Invest in a one-stop shop.

From the family lens, I hear frustrations that students are having to use many different systems for their learning. They are jumping from Canvas to Zoom to IXL to Seesaw to (insert your app or website here). This becomes hard for parents or caregivers who are not educators to navigate, and often, it becomes challenging to understand the objective of each app or platform. As an administrator, consider investing in one easy-to-use platform (like HMH's Connected Teaching and Learning) that all students in Grades K–12 can access away from school. Families need to learn just one system to navigate.

Tips for Teachers

Of course, we as leaders cannot do this alone. It takes a team to ensure success. Teachers already have their plates full, but there are a few quick actions for teachers to consider.

1. Communicate absences.

If teachers can make the first calls to families when students are absent, it can go a long way. Speaking with the child and family member on the phone (not over email) can have an impact. Then, communicating to administrators when multiple absences occur is critical. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

2. Amplify outreach tactics.

Your school may be taking several steps to connect with families. Teachers can amplify the work that is already being done—you don’t need to create everything from scratch. For example, if your principal is recording weekly videos with school updates, take the time to send them out to students’ families. Read the results of focus group data, and determine what you can tell families about how you are using that information to enhance the learning experience.

3. Celebrate the small wins.

Take time to celebrate the good that happens. If you have perfect attendance one day in class or all students complete an assignment on time, make sure the students know it’s important. Don’t celebrate for the sake of celebrating—tell them the why!

There are many other great suggestions for connecting with families that can be found within your own professional learning network. Find what works for your community, build the plan, execute the steps of the plan, reflect on the impact, refine, and do it again! Remember, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

We have the unique opportunity to impact three generations—the students, their families, and the students’ future children. Make the most of your time with your students’ families. The year is long, but the days are quick. Be the change. I believe in you.

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Educators, students, and families can teach and learn at school, at home, and anywhere in between when you think connected. Explore HMH's Connected Teaching and Learning for best-in-class instruction, along with reliable assessment, relevant practice, and a growing library of on-demand educational resources.

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