Communicating with Parents and Families in a Virtual Environment
By Derrick Calvert
I feel like I’ve started every blog that I’ve written this year with how many adjustments we’ve had to make because of all the events that are happening in our world. But it’s true! There are so many phenomena that are different, that it has truly changed the way we interact in daily life. For none is this reality more true than for educators. We not only have learning happening virtually, but there is another element that has come from this...how do we communicate with parents during this time when we are trying to navigate what our new roles are. Parents may not necessarily understand the new landscape that we are traversing, but they are expecting us to simulate the exact environment of school, even though students may be in school virtually. It’s a difficult task, to be honest, and while we may not be able to simulate the exact brick and mortar atmosphere we can provide parents comfort that their children are getting your best through communication.
It’s true, parent roles have changed in this virtual environment, and now, as educators, we have to view them more as partners, an extension of student learning as opposed to just parents who are separate from student learning. We know that there are several modes of communication from emails, facebook, ClassDojo, Remind app, to newsletters. I’m not here to tell you how we should communicate because that isn’t as important as what is communicated.
What are your expectations for me as a parent?
Once again, we all can agree that parent roles have changed in this new world of virtual learning. With students not being in a building, it essentially becomes up to the parent to ensure that their child makes it to class successfully. While that is their responsibility, it is, however, our responsibility to let parents know if a student doesn’t show up to a class. If we don’t let them know, then it is essentially like losing a child because we don’t know where they are. Aside from that, what do you expect for your parents to do with their children? Do you still want parents actively engaged as if they were still in our buildings, or do parents need to back all the way up? Now we all know that there are a couple different types of parents, there are the parents who are completely detached, the parents that just want to help, and the helicopter parents. You’ll find out really fast what type of parents you have, but let them know what you expect from them early on, while setting routines with your students. Those needs for parents may change, and when they do, be clear with them. Also, when communicating parent expectations, make it concise. They have a lot on their plates, and the clearer and the more concise you are, the easier it will be for them to support you.
How often will I receive communication?
How often we communicate is certainly up to you as a teacher, however, what we have to do is communicate as often as possible. The Tuesday and Wednesday folders are now not enough anymore, so letting parents know how often they will receive communication is going to be important. This is especially important because students are submitting assignments online, so in viewing parents as our partners, they are going to want to know if students are missing any assignments, assessments, or if there are any glows and grows that we would like to discuss that are happening in the class. This also goes into how often parents will know about their child’s progress in class. The last thing we want to happen is that students fall behind on an online platform. It could be more difficult for them to catch up, and could cause parents some discomfort and confusion as well.
What will class look like for my child?
Have you walked parents through a day-in-the-life of your class? Just like students have to feel comfortable with the routines, with experiencing a virtual classroom, parents have to also be comfortable with what you are doing. Remember, unlike being in a normal classroom, parents now have the ability to sit in class with their child...they can now experience what their children are learning, and how they feel in the process. The conversations around how children feel about school, now, flow over into the dinner table to be talked about in even greater detail. Parents may no longer be asking “What did you learn today?” but now they are asking, “How did you feel when the teacher…” or, “I noticed that you were confused when your teacher said... Did he/she ever answer your question?” These conversations can shape how students feel about class, so showing parents that there is consistency in the way we interact with students equally and there is consistency in your classroom gives them an understanding of what will happen every day. Consistency makes us feel comfortable, which does the job of reducing educational anxiety for both your students and their parents.
How will I ensure that my child won’t be left behind?
This is an important aspect of this new communication. This is all about trust from your parents. How do you get them to trust you? What processes can you put in place to gain their trust. Moreover, parents are increasingly concerned that their child will not receive the same quality of education online as they will receive as if they were in person. It is important that we reassure parents early that their children will get the best that you have to offer. It’s not enough to tell them that, but showing them is going to be the key. Let them know what your principles are, what your goals are, and how you will help their child reach their goals. (In order to know what those goals are, we’ll have to have a relationship with students). This is one way that we can ensure that students are not left behind, asking them what their goals are and helping them create a plan to reach those goals. That way, when you meet with parents, you can tell them specifically what you have planned to help their child reach their academic, social, and emotional goals. This is how you gain parents trust and help ensure that students are continuing to grow and prosper.
In closing, communicating to parents is not only going to ease parents’ minds, but it will also provide them with an opportunity to be able to support you. With students participating in virtual classrooms, parents really have an opportunity to be a part of their child’s education in ways that they have not been able to do at any other time. As we ponder what and how much more communication we may need, I challenge you to take advantage of the fact that parents almost have to be involved. So it is our job to provide them an avenue, a roadmap to how they can support us.