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Use Distance Learning Interactions to Meet Parent and Family Engagement Requirements

In times of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, online interactions can be transformed into opportunities to meet parent and family engagement requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95.

To build capacity for involvement of parents and families under ESSA Section 1116(e)(2), schools and districts must provide materials and training to help parents work with their children to improve their children’s achievement, such as literacy training and using technology, as appropriate, to foster parental involvement.

Jill Thompson, associate partner with Education Elements, says that family engagement can be achieved through opening as many ways of communication as possible.

“Some districts are doing coffee chats when the principal talks about specific topics and answers questions, doing surveys to learn about the families’ needs, or sending newsletters,” she said. “There is a principal in North Carolina that makes a video a day and shares what the weather is going be and where the food is going to be located if families need to get food.”

Thompson observed that online interactions with students, parents, and families can also incorporate social-emotional strategies. For example, teachers can start an online class by giving a chance for students to share their feelings or meet with parents remotely to learn about what challenges they are experiencing related to supporting learning in the remote setting.

Dr. Anita Vazquez Batisti, associate dean of the Center for Educational Partnerships of the Fordham University, N.Y., agrees that applying social-emotional components during distance learning can help reduce the stress that many students and families are experiencing because of being isolated and overwhelmed with transitioning to a home-school setting.

As part of the state-funded outreach the Center of Educational Partnerships provides in New York City, Batisti said that certified psychologists, bilingual counselors, and social workers are working online to assist families with the mental health aspects of the confinement.

Thompson and Batisti recommended the following tips for engaging with parents remotely:

  • Provide information, but keep it as simple as possible. Batisti suggested avoiding overloading parents and students with too many resources.
  • Let students share their thoughts. Thompson proposed guiding educators to start the day with a morning meeting in which students can share what is on their mind
  • If needed, provide a remote learning parent boot camp. Teach parents to use remote learning resources, such as how to turn on a Chromebook, how to log on to a meeting, and how to activate the camera and microphone, according to Thompson.
  • Instruct educators to be flexible and accommodating about students attending class. Thompson has heard cases where families have more than one child in different grade levels and only one device to share, which can result in students needing to attend their classes in different times.
  • Reserve the afternoon to have one-on-one meetings with parents. In order to make most of the day, Thompson advised keeping instruction in the morning and scheduling teacher and parent conferences later in the day to discuss the student’s progress in the afternoon.
  • Keep meetings brief. Unless there is a concern that requires more time, Thompson suggested that meetings be no longer than 30 minutes to accommodate more parents in the time slots.
  • Use every contact with parents, especially parent conferences, as an opportunity for engagement. Batisti and Thompson proposed asking parents and family how they are adapting to the remote learning setting, what their challenges to assist their children with homework and other assignments are, and if they need additional support or any other assistance.
  • Use social-emotional strategies. To help reduce the stress many families are experiencing while being isolated, Batisti and Thompson recommended connecting families to psychologists, counselors, and social workers.
  • Be creative on reaching out to families. According to Thompson, some administrators are using creative ways to communicate with parents and families — for example, recording daily videos or implementing daily events like a coffee chat to answer some questions and talk about specific topics, such as where families can find food or how to find additional support with homework.
  • Get some feedback. Thompson said some districts are sending electronic surveys to get feedback from parents about their needs.

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