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Building a Bridge Between Families and Schools During Covid-19: 10 Tips From Families to Educators

Building a Bridge Between Families and Schools During Covid-19: 10 Tips From Families to Educators

*Editor's Note: PEAK Parent Center knows the way forward in these uncharted waters amid unprecedented school closures must include collaboration from everyone involved. Education is a community investment. We want each of your voices to be heard; your successes, your struggles, and all that lies between. Therefore, in the coming weeks we will feature tips, questions and answers, and more to provide a way for us to come together (while practicing social distancing) and work toward solutions that help each of us, and most importantly the learners, who will shape our communities in the years to come. We encourage families, educators, and students to submit your questions and tips to PEAK Parent Center’s Parent Advisors by email, parentadvisor@peakparent.org and include SCHOOLING DURING COVID-19 in the subject line or call 719-531-9400 and ask to have your questions and tips included in our coming blog articles. Help us build a bridge!

Our featured question for today’s blog is:

If families could tell teachers anything about education at home amid school closures, what are 10 tips they would share?

1. Reach out to individual families somehow, someway - students AND parents. Whether it’s a phone call (some teachers use SignUp Genius to let the students and parents pick a good time - only 10 minutes means a lot!) or a 1:1 email - ask how they are feeling, what they are struggling with, AND what’s working well (very critical info!) Let them know you are struggling, too. Reassure them that you will work with them to get through it - because families and students know you will but they need to hear it from you. 

2. Triple your time estimates. If you think something should take your average student 10 minutes to do, then plan for it to take them 30 minutes or more.  Technology and personal support may be non-existent, not working or require sharing in a household. Even the same technology works differently (sometimes not at all) if it’s on a Mac, PC, iproduct, or phone!  Remember what you see on your end may look 1,000% different on the other end of the digital line. Many families and students have told us they feel like the volume of work is more now than it was before, and due to technology challenges and the need to self-teach, it probably is.  Ask yourself is this a must know, need to know, or nice to know. Focus on the Must Know, consider making the need to know stuff extra credit, and let the nice to know go for now. Most families and students will do their very best to get their work done but it may take them twice as long just to figure out how to work the tech before they can focus on the actual learning content!

3. Hold office hours/open conferences multiple times a week. We know that schools are having to use many different technologies (yes, the telephone and email are technology and they may be all you have!) to deliver learning and maintain connections right now.  Families know that many of these tools are new to educators as well. Whatever your district or school is using, see if you can offer your students and families an open time to call, chat, or maybe even see your face (and your cool PJs) at least an hour 3 times a week. They may have specific work questions or just need to say “hola, bonjour, hallo, namaste, or hi.”  These connections are priceless to us all.

4. Let your humanity and humor show! A teacher PEAK knows was very worried they couldn’t do this virtual teaching thing - they feared they were too old, too scared, too unmotivated, too “whatever” to be able to tackle this new way of working to be effective.  PEAK reminded them that one of the most powerful things they give their students everyday in the live classroom is themselves - their unique, wonderful, wacky, wise, worried, sometimes tired and stressed-out self. That’s what your students still need from you, so think about how you share yourself in front of them in the classroom and keep sharing that part of you. Do you love photography even if you teach math?  You can share/describe a favorite (appropriate - LOL) picture and tell them why it means so much to you. Ask your students to do the same! Hide funny (also, appropriate!) jokes, cartoons or memes in your online or printed assignments and see who finds them first. Remember what makes you a great teacher in the classroom and bring it on… line!

5. Calm the chaos however you can. Students and families have told us the hardest part is not knowing where to find, complete and turn in lessons, particularly for students in high school. Ask your school/teaching team to coordinate methods. We know schools have a lot of options they are offering to educators but see if you can collaborate within your school to use a few common methods and do your best to stick to those. The sheer volume of methods is overwhelming (one parent we know has FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Schoology, and Microsoft Teams on the possible devices in her home!)  If you must use a variety of technology platforms, make a checklist for your students at the start of the week and say please check each of these once a day. Provide an overview of what the student/family should expect to find in each space. If you need to link to another web site, embed the link in your most used platform if possible so that even if students have to go somewhere else they can go to the commonly used platform and find where to go next.

6. Use teacher aides and paraprofessionals to help students if you have access to them. A special education teacher called and said they were uncertain on how to use their paraprofessionals at this time.  Have the aides man the phones or the online conferences each day in ongoing office hours - they can still help students with their science wave experiments using slinkys, math problems, finding references for a paper, listen to a speech, see an art project that needs help. They can gather common questions for any of the teachers and share them.  What about a reading room, story time, or social connection time 3 times a week that isn’t mandatory but provides another connection point for each other? 

7. Broadcast brain breaks.  No matter what tools your school has access to, find a way to share great ideas for students to access brain breaks whenever they need them.  Brain breaks can be jokes, short dance or music videos, virtual zoo (who isn’t calmed by watching sea otters play?) and museum visits, snack ideas or recipes, meditation links, etc.  Have all the teachers in your school share the brain breaks in a common spot so it’s filled with lots of options. Write brain breaks into your lessons i.e. Question #5 - Time for a 5 minute brain break!

8. Steal proudly and share shamelessly!  Don’t feel like you have to build all the curriculum yourself!  Use BrainPop, Khan Academy, Vooks, YouTube, etc. to find accurate, excellent, engaging content about nearly any topic. Yes, you as the teacher need to vet its accuracy, but students and families don’t expect everything to come directly from you.  They need and crave some variety and you don’t need to write it all yourself. And if you find an excellent music video about the electromagnetic spectrum, share it with other teachers! Share what you know to help everyone grow.

9. Ask for help. There are no dumb questions -  how often have you told your students this?  Well, it applies to educators, too! If you need help from a colleague, an administrator, a student (yes - last we checked, most schools used students to help in class), or a family, you have to ask.  It was hard enough to read minds when we got to see each other every week or every day, it’s even harder in the remote learning world. Be brave in this new frontier and ask for whatever help you need.

10. Be gentle with yourself.  AND with parents and students.  This is an unprecedented time for each of us.  All of us are struggling with something: technology - too much or not enough, lack of toilet paper, chaos, feeling trapped, fear for friends and families, money worries, how to run the new restaurant called KITCHEN, no jobs, inability to focus in a small space, you name it - someone in your circle is struggling with it.  Remember, none of us is alone and none of us is incompetent; we each bring strengths to this quarantine party and we can do this together because also highly contagious are: kindness, compassion, patience, love, laughter, enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Don’t wait to catch them from others.  Be the carrier!

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