As we all know, the Coronavirus changed lots of things in education. One thing that changed as a result of it was parent engagement. Some ways that we used to connect with parents, and they used to connect with us, can no longer happen. For now …
- gone are the days where you could invite families into the classroom. At least live and in person.
- gone are the long discussions as the fence in the morning. Or even the chats during pick up time.
- gone are the impromptu meetings. At least the ones that involve having families come into the room to sit down and talk,
- gone are the volunteers. Or at least any volunteer opportunities that include coming into the school space and connecting with kids.
While we miss what’s gone, we’re also excited by what can still happen, even if it is in different ways.
As I started to think about writing this post, I couldn’t help but reflect on some wise words by Aaron Puley, a vice principal in our Board. I’ve learned from and with Aaron about parent engagement for the past 10 years. It’s a topic that we’re both very passionate about. One thing that Aaron’s taught me about parent engagement is that we always need to explore it with an equity lens. What works for one family might not work for all, which is why we’ve tried to consider different ways to connect.
A few experiences from last weekend made me think about what is still possible, instead of what’s not.
The first experience was when one of our parents shared this post in her child’s Private Channel in MS Teams. (Thanks to the mom for giving us permission to share this comment here.)
While my teaching partner, Paula, and I extend learning based on our observations and conversations with kids, sometimes it’s these moments at night, at home, while chatting with parents, that children share insights that they might not in the classroom. This mom’s use of Teams allowed us to glean information from these insights. Knowing this child’s thoughts around Kandinsky’s artwork, also helped us look at how we can still address these interests while also introducing some new artists. We love how this space gave both the mom and the child a voice, while allowing us to connect with them and further explore our planning for the week ahead.
Then came this second experience. I shared a shortened version of this moment through a couple of tweets.
I’ll admit that after reading mom’s email, I really wished that I had asked the child why he didn’t want the plastic water bottle. I will definitely start asking “why” from now on. While so many of our children talk about the environment in class, especially thanks to PLASTIC PLANET, we never really know what gets shared beyond the classroom.
Having these email connections is another way that parents can share with us.
The third experience happened on the weekend, as I was talking with a parent on the phone. For almost twenty years now, I’ve arranged opportunities to talk with families on the telephone.
I used to call every parent, every weekend. Chatting with Aaron many years ago, he made me think differently about this. He mentioned that some parents might prefer an email and others might only like occasional check-ins. Again, it comes down to equity. Thanks to this discussion, I changed my approach, and have stuck with a similar one for the past few years.
As I was talking with mom, she spoke about going to the park with her daughter. Her daughter saw plastic on the ground, and asked to pick it up. Mom mentioned that she tries to always pick up garbage when she sees it, but she missed this garbage. Her daughter was very concerned about animals eating it, and she could see how her child connected back to our classroom learning around the environment. Just as the other parent provided us with insights about her son’s learning through email, this mom provided us with insights about her daughter’s through a phone call.
Paula and I often speak about the important connection between relationships and learning. I think this also extends to relationships with families. How are we welcoming parent voices in the classroom and in the school, even from afar? I have to wonder if this distance dialogue is equally as valuable to the in-person connections that we used to have before. Our hope is that others will share what they’re doing to facilitate these important family relationships, so that we can all inspire each other with a little something new.