Bringing Families Into the Fold
6 ways APs and teachers can partner with the parents who are supervising remote learning.
For parents who work from home, supervising a child’s online instruction can seem like an impossible task. Parents are often stressed out about meeting their own work deadlines while racing around the house, making sure their child is tuned into the virtual classroom.
On the other side of the screen are teachers who are overwhelmed by new methods of instructional delivery. They sometimes get frustrated when children lag behind or when parents refuse to keep children on schedule—or they fail to respond to urgent emails and phone calls seeking assistance.
How do you bridge the parent/teacher gap?
APs Rising recently asked that question to Andrea Thompson, a Maryland school administrator and one of NAESP’s 2020 National Outstanding Assistant Principals. She offered six ways to bring parents “into the fold” with virtual or hybrid learning:
1. Communicate with parents without shaming. “Some teachers may feel that parents are not trying hard enough to be supportive facilitators of learning, and in an effort to convey urgency, teachers may be perceived as demanding,” Thompson says. “On the other hand, some parents may take offense and feel shamed, especially when they are already stressed about how much has been put on them while feeling unable to provide academic support. Be careful about not causing parents to feel ashamed, because parents will either withdraw from the partnership or exhibit defensiveness, resulting in a ruined parent/teacher relationship.”
2. Set up parental workshops. In addition to working as a school administrator, Thompson runs Parents as Tutors (parentsastutors.com), a company that coaches parents to lend their children academic support effectively. “Parental engagement has to be more than coming to view school plays or helping at bake sales,” she says. “It’s also about building parents’ capacity to partner with teachers in supporting academic achievement. Many parents are unable to help academically because some may have dropped out of school, struggled academically while in school, [or] forgotten the strategies they used to solve math and reading problems.”
She advises schools to hold reading and math workshops online for parents, so they can learn content and coaching strategies for guiding their children. Children might resist having their parents facilitate, but “I tell parents that they don’t have to be the smart one in the room,” Thompson says. “They can coax the child into a collaborative partnership by saying, ‘Let’s collaborate together and work this out.’”
3. Establish parent centers. School districts must make it easy for parents to reach out to an administrator or specialist if a child is struggling academically. This is especially true if the child has a learning disability or receives special education services. Schools also should reach out to families of students learning English as a second language. “They need to help parents understand how to support the development in each language domain: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Parents need to know how the school is supporting their children in terms of facilitating small groups and providing one-on-one instruction.”
4. Provide different means of learning. Not all students can do their best learning through a computer screen. A lot depends on learning style. Thompson suggests teachers offer kinesthetic activities that use manipulatives and teaching aids that parents can pick up from the school, especially in math. For example, a child learning fractions may not understand the concept by viewing only an on-screen demonstration or hearing the teacher explain it, but it might “click” if the child uses a manipulative such as a plastic pizza divided into eight slices.
5. Create a school-like structure in the home. This is particularly important for younger children in kindergarten or preschool who don’t yet understand the routines of a school day. Thompson suggests parents create word walls at home or start each day with an activity that teaches calendar concepts. “Parents should ask pre-K and kindergarten teachers to share with them how they can set up similar activity centers at home,” she says.
6. Encourage patience and understanding. When everyone is experiencing exceptional challenges, tempers can flare. Educators may get frustrated , and parents “may become defensive and throw their anger at teachers, whom they perceive may be asking them to do too much in terms of facilitating,” Thompson says. “But we all must remember that we are on the same team, with the same goal: student achievement. Parents are our partners, and throughout this crisis, we must work together to keep the child academically engaged.”