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The K-12 education world is abuzz with ideas and possibilities around how to spend billions in Covid relief funding. The money is intended to support the safe reopening of schools, support mental health for students, and close widening academic equity gaps. 

And while there’s more guidance to come on how states, districts, and schools can and can’t spend these dollars, one thing is clear:

We need to engage our community partners and families before we spend the Covid relief funding. They, or their voices, need to be at table when we make the decisions. 

They’ve earned that right. 

This past year, our community partners reinvented their work and stood beside us as we wrapped supports around students and families. They created book distribution programs, made calls to check on students, provided access to wi-fi, and served as free lunch distribution sites. Their efforts helped keep kids safe and helped make learning possible. 

And our families… where do I begin to list all the ways they stepped up this past year? Many found themselves at the center of the education of their children, supervising learning in ways that they had never done before, while working full-time jobs and managing their fears for the future and their families.  

Our community partners and our families got more than a glimpse into the world of education. This pandemic allowed them to see more clearly the important role they play in supporting learning. They showed they can rise to the occasion.

Our partners and our families know what they need and can help us prioritize the Covid funding. But if we want them to offer up their thoughts, we need to reach out  in ways that they can understand and in ways that are respectful of their expertise. 

We need clear, effective meaningful school communication. 

Here’s what that means: 

  • Take the time to unpack the guidance coming down from the federal government and share it using simple words, free of both jargon and acronyms. 
  • Pare down that guidance into key points, so we don’t overwhelm parents and partners to the point where they stop listening.
  • Use a tone that’s not authoritative, but instead conveys partnership. We’ve got to remember we’re not “teaching” our parents and partners, we are engaging them as equals and as co-creators in the education of their children. Changing our tone starts with opening our hearts to truly believing that our families and partners have the capacity to support their children and help us make these decisions. 

 As we explain the guidance, we also have to help parents understand our systems, so they can see how all of these moving pieces fit together. 

It will be challenging. But these changes, and the funding coming down to address them, gives us all a chance to reinvent education and put an end to long-running and deep-rooted inequities in our schools. 

Why listening matters

If we make decisions about things like COVID-relief funding without first talking with our families and our community partners, we reinforce an education system that perpetuates a “we know best” mentality. We will lose all of the goodwill and relationships that we’ve built this past year. 

Instead, if we take the time to really listen to our community and our families, and create “with and not for,” imagine how powerful that could be? 

We might finally create an education system that works for all students and all families, one that enables partners to provide supports aligned with the needs of individual learners. 
Interested in learning more about the power of communication in connecting with students and families? Download my Playbook for Clear, Effective & Meaningful School Communication.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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