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As we look back at this strange time in education, we may very well talk forever about pre-COVID and post-COVID. 

So many things have changed. Perhaps nothing has changed more than the relationship between schools and families.

If schools didn’t know it before the pandemic, or didn’t acknowledge it, they know it now… bringing families into the learning process isn’t just “nice,” but “necessary.” 

In the days after the pandemic first hit, many teachers were forced to reach out and engage families in ways unlike they had before. This led to conversations that they never had before. For the first time, teachers got a window into the lives of children and the support that is available to them from home.  

And, many parents found themselves juggling the stresses of jobs, while also supervising or working through lessons with their children. Parents, for their part, got a window into the difficulties of teaching. And, in some cases, teachers became heroes overnight.

Because of this, there exists a tremendous amount of goodwill and respect between teachers and families. And while some of that was there prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t as visceral or as strong as it is now. 

It would be a mistake for schools not to build on that shared admiration. So, how do you do that? Below are three family-engagement practices that your schools should consider carrying forward once the pandemic is behind us: 

  • Conduct parent/caregiver phone calls

Throughout the pandemic, teachers and educators reached out to students’ families to check on them, see what they need, and offer help and guidance. Your team might not have realized it in the moment, but they were conducting relationship building with these phone calls. And, the research is very clear: When teachers learn from families, they teach better. And, when families get to know teachers, students do better. Pre-COVID, many teachers thought about the importance of building relationships with families, but they didn’t prioritize it. Now, they don’t have a choice and they’re realizing it works! 

  • Host virtual family events

Pre-COVID, schools tried everything to get parents and caregivers to attend family engagement events — giveaways, meals, Class DoJo points, free bus tokens, the list goes on. We spent hours tracking down those gifts, meals, and bus tokens. It was crazy. Now, since the pandemic, attendance for virtual online events is soaring. Virtual events eliminate many of the barriers that keep families from attending programs in person… time, transportation, weather. They are also easier for parents who are reluctant, or fearful to come into school. There’s something about online participation that feels “right” for them… they can be a face in a square or a name in a chat and that’s a lot less intimidating. Although many families still face challenges with technology and there’s really no substitute for a face to face meeting, offering a virtual option along side our in-person engagement should remain a part of our strategy.  

  • Commit to regular family communication 

During the height of school building closures, things were moving quickly. Yet, schools did a beautiful job of keeping parents and caregivers in the loop. It was crucial. Families were paying attention, in part because we were giving them information they needed and anticipated. As schools dance between in-person and virtual classes, regular communication home is crucial. As we create our Post-COVID education world, we must continue to ask, “What do parents need to know and how can we get the word out?” It doesn’t matter if it’s related to the pandemic or something else, this question should be a guiding star.

Perhaps the biggest thing we need to carry forward in a Post-COVID world is the mutual respect and understanding that has developed between educators and families. We can’t go back to making assumptions or assigning blame. Because, whatever happens, one lesson is already clear: It will take all of us working together to reinvent education and ensure our future and the futures of our children.
If you are working to reinvent your approach to family engagement this year, I’d love to share my experiences with you, or your team. My full-day PD workshops were designed to provide practical solutions to many of these challenges. I’d love to share my approach. Visit my website to sign up for your free consultation.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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