The following blog post, by Cristina Stanojevich, was created in collaboration with TeachPlus.
Right now, it is more important than ever that we maintain open communication with our students and their families.
I will admit that calling the parents and guardians of my students is a challenge for me. It’s not that I don’t want to. Honestly, once it’s over I’m always glad that I did. Maintaining open communication with parents is essential to meeting a student’s needs, to understanding where they’re coming from and what kind of support they need. But just getting on the phone with someone that I don’t know makes my heart race.
It doesn’t help that sometimes you call a parent and catch them on a bad day. And it doesn’t help that a call from a teacher is often bad news. I love making positive phone calls home, but when time is limited, there are certain calls that must be made (the “sandwich method” is important here: positive observation, bad news, positive observation). Sometimes parents will ask for advice that you’re not completely sure how to give; sometimes they’ll turn it around on you; sometimes they’ll sound defeated by yet another frustrated call from school; and sometimes they will promise interventions that never happen. But often, the call will be productive and lead to improvements in class. Every year I push myself to increase my parent outreach, knowing it’s my weakness.
But now, as districts across the country transition to remote learning, communicating with our students’ parents and guardians is more important than ever. Families are facing the anxiety of having to manage their child’s schooling from home, and many of those same families are simultaneously facing uncertainty as to how they will access basic resources. Districts that can are pushing for digital learning‒getting students set up with free WiFi and Chromebooks. But for families new to the technology or experiencing housing insecurity, there will be significant challenges.
At my school, we divided up our 9th graders among the core content teachers. Each of us is responsible for checking in on a group of about 20 students throughout the next several weeks. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that we do more than prep lessons and teach; we analyze data, develop curricula, communicate with families, introduce students to important resources, and advocate on our students’ behalf; we clean, we listen, we tie shoes and put on band aids. That doesn’t go away when the classrooms shut down. Yes, we will make sure that all of our students and their families know how to access their online learning tools and get academic help when needed, but we will also make sure that students know how to access food, shelter, and mental health services; we will be there to talk about their fears and address their worries; we will give them tools and strategies to help keep their families healthy, and we will remind them how to discern between accurate and inaccurate information as we all work to keep our communities and loved ones safe. We are a resource for our students and their families, and we are in a unique position to create access and stability throughout our communities as we face this crisis together. This is the time to step up, to take the initiative. Right now. You can start with two simple steps.
- Create Access. Set up a central web-page where your students can access online learning tools as well as information about basic resources like food, shelter, healthcare, and mental health services. At our school, we worked with our (incredible) counselor to put together a folder of resources on our “Online Learning” Google Classroom page. Become familiar with those resources so you can communicate them to families that may not have digital access.
- Create Stability. Contact parents and guardians and students themselves. Start an email thread or make a phone call, but check in. Let them know that you will be continuing to check in throughout the next several weeks. Invite them to suggest how often or when they would like to hear from you. Give them a way to reach you if they have any questions. Remind them that this is a difficult and confusing time, but that learning will continue, and you are there to support their child through this process.
Teachers have an opportunity right now to come through for their communities in an incredibly important way. We may not be health care workers fighting the virus on the frontlines, but we can hold down the fort and help to maintain some sense of stability in the lives of our students and their families.