Family Engagement in a Remote Learning Environment

April 1st, 2021

During this time of remote instruction, adults in each family are playing many different roles. Not only are they acting as the learning facilitator, but they may also be serving as the chef, nurse, and technology support. Some may also be acting as an accountant for the family at a time when a family’s financial well-being may be at risk. 

Not all caregivers are necessarily trained to do all these things. As educators work to provide supports to families, they may find many are feeling more stressed with the added responsibilities. How can educators find ways to support them as they engage in these new roles?

Before we can answer that question, it’s important to define family engagement and family involvement, as well as how they differ. 

Family Involvement vs. Family Engagement

ASCD’s Educational Leadership published an article by Larry Felazzo in which he explains that the dictionary definition of involvement is “to unfold or develop.” In terms of family involvement, it’s a practice of doing to or doing for our families. 

The flip side is family engagement, which is defined as “coming together, interlocking.” Engagement is the practice of doing the work with families. 

Family involvement is often characterized by telling families what they can or should do to support their child’s education. On the other hand, family engagement emphasizes that educators and school systems listen to families to learn about the myriad ways they can support their children and partner in the educational journey. 

Another key difference is how school systems and educators view students and their families: as either clients or partners. Each of these terms have different connotations, and it is important to focus on engaging partners in order to move toward family engagement.

Ultimately, we need to change our mindsets as educators from one of family involvement to one of family engagement. From one of doing to or doing for, to one of doing with side by side. 

How to Support Family Engagement 

Supporting families is a major theme when talking about family engagement in remote learning environments. In reviewing information on how to support families through remote instruction, three themes emerged:

  1. Educators need to provide families with structures for student learning success
  2. School systems need to provide technology tools and resources
  3. Educators need to provide families with insights into the curriculum and the content being taught

Structures for Student Learning

With traditional in-person instruction, families rely on schools to provide structure.  With remote learning, caregivers now hold that responsibility in their hands.

Here are some ways to help guide families in those areas: 

  • Give them examples of what “helping with” versus “doing” schoolwork looks like, and make sure it is clear to students as well. 
  • Talk with parents about how they can distinguish school activities from home activities by establishing clear guidelines and expectations. 
  • Provide sample daily schedules for families to modify for their use. 
  • Counsel caregivers on making supplies accessible to learners to limit the number of interruptions in a day. 
  • Finally, ask guardians what they need to be successful in terms of establishing structure for student learning. They may ask you for help with something completely different in this area, and then you need to be prepared to act or point them in the right direction for additional support. 

Tech Tools and Resources

Families also need support by way of technology tools and resources. In some districts, the responsibility to provide technology support falls on the educator. Some ways to help provide this support are: 

  • Teach families how to navigate the tools that students will need and schedule “office hours” for technology support. Only a small percentage of families feel they have had adequate access to their children’s teachers throughout this period of remote instruction. To combat this, provide families with multiple ways to contact you to get the support they need. 
  • Remember that caregivers might need ideas for how to motivate their children, to better understand their learning styles, and how to facilitate physical activity and brain breaks. The more resources you can arm them with as they ask for it, the better. 
  • As always, ask guardians what they need to be successful. Caregivers likely know what they need, but they may feel uncomfortable asking for it without you reaching out. 

Curriculum and Content

Now more than ever, families are showing an increased interest in understanding the curriculum and the content that their child is expected to engage with. Because educators aren’t physically in the space to assist learners with assignments, it is important to assign work that learners can do independently. 

When you craft assignments, leave room for flexibility by providing choices. This gives families some freedom to do what will work best for their family and their environment. In order to ensure that caregivers can support you to this end, make sure they know the purpose of each learning activity.  You might also consider constructing and communicating learning progressions to both students and family members so that they understand the pathway to achieving the standards. 

Additionally, families need someone to demystify the curriculum for them so they can understand what their child is expected to work on. Families need us as educators to help them understand these ways of teaching so that they can better support their children as they work to meet or exceed the standards. Families will also benefit from understanding what each assignment entails, how much time is expected for completion, and how they can support their child with the work. 

Another option is to have assignments that ask the learner to teach a family member a key concept about something they are learning. As always, don’t be afraid to ask families what they need in order to better understand the curriculum and the content. Asking for their input is what true partnership looks like. 

Feedback from Families

As we go through this pandemic and live in a world of remote instruction, we need to regularly solicit feedback for families. In order to ensure reciprocal communication, it is important to regularly ask caregivers what they need. That may include technology support, WiFi access, scheduling time for children to complete assignments, and general counseling. While you may not be able to directly help in all of these ways as a single educator, you should know how and where they can get support with those types of needs. 

Additionally, when you solicit feedback, don’t limit yourself to using formal measures like surveys. Consider bringing together a few families at a time on a video chat to get their perspective on how remote learning is going and to see if they have any ideas for making improvements to the experience. You could also host a class town hall for caregivers to give feedback on specific lessons or types of lessons and assignments that work well and those that aren’t working in the remote environment. 

The more that educators and school systems do to solicit and listen to feedback in a multitude of ways, the more families will feel that they are true partners in education. 

 

To learn more about how to engage with families in remote learning environments, check out my webinar on-demand here.

 

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Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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