We’re about five weeks into virtual learning at our house, we’re all still learning our way and figuring how to make it all work. One thing that is becoming more and more clear though is that the parent/guardian-teacher relationship is shifting. While a connection between the two has always been important, it’s vital for the success of virtual learning.

In thinking about it, it needs to be viewed as a co-teaching relationship. Not in the way that you co-plan with every single parent in your class, but in how we engage with each other on a regular basis. Whether it is comfortable or not, viewing this relationship as a co-teaching one is mission critical for success of our students.

Here are somethings to consider when “co-teaching” with parents and guardians of virtual learners:

Grace, flexibility and empathy: There is no way to get a clear picture of what is going on in a home through the computer screen and sometimes unmuted mic. Yes there are clues, but before jumping to conclusions reach out to the parent and have a conversation. Lines of communication are vital. Start by asking questions about how as a parent/guardian they’re able to support their child. Do they have other children in the home who are also virtual learning that they’re trying to support? Are they working from home? What space is available for the student to learn in? Is the child really disengaged or are they a kinesthetic learner and need to move to process what is being said? Reach out from a place of curiosity, understanding and empathy.

Set clear expectations: Give parents guidance on how much support is developmentally appropriate so they have baseline of how best to support to their child. When should the parent step in to provide support? How often? When should the parent encourage the child to ask the teacher? What should students be doing on their own? Should the parent correct behaviors or not? This is brand new territory for parents and they want to make the experience for their child a success or they wouldn’t have agreed to be involved. Clear expectations help both of you and the child.

Communicate: Let the parents know exactly what is going on and when, such as, important dates, assignments, due dates…etc. It is not intuitive for a parent to know where the fine line of “what is student responsibility” and “what the parent should help with” which is compounded by the fact that virtual learning is new for everyone (not to mention we’re living during a pandemic). Consider adding supports and scaffolding for both your parents and your students to ensure that follow through with assignments and assessments are both effective and efficient.

Seek parent input: Co-teaching requires ongoing communication and sharing. Consider asking questions that will help streamline the process for both of you. Ask questions such as: What is working for their child? What isn’t? Co-create a plan for that child to meet their needs. Make suggestions addressing what the parent could be doing at home to support and extend what the teacher is doing or providing at school. Make them feel included in the final outcome. Ask parents what their priority for their child is during this school year. Really listen to what they are saying and their input, to show you value their opinions about the learning experiences taking place.

Provide clear, step-by-step directions and resources: As you think through directions, assume that the tool or process is brand new for everyone, parents and students. If younger students need to sign into a new program or try a new process, send information and links directly to the parents with tips, so they can assist their child. Make sure parents know what projects, tests, or time intensive assignments are coming up. If there is an experiment that will need supplies, communicate that need to the parent in advance.

Build Community: Build in opportunities for parents to connect with other parents to get to know one another and you! Everyone is feeling unsure and unsteady right now so building in opportunities of connection will help everyone feel more comfortable with the situation. An online space can be created just for parents as a means to connect and a place provide announcements, a monthly meet up schedule, and other ways to provide supports around virtual learning. Schedule check ins such as a phone call to see how things are going or send quick emails to check in on the student but also build a relationship with your co-teachers, the parents and guardians.

My hope is that as community and trust are built everyone feels more comfortable in this new online, connected space. This way we all win, parents, teachers and most important kids. We lean on each other, ask for help, we model for children how to create cultures of care in online spaces.

For those of you that are teaching virtually or hybrid, how are you connecting with parents? Let us know in a comment below!

Teaching virtually and feeling disconnected or unsupported yourself? Want direction for how you can bring your parents in as “co-teachers”? Or maybe guidance with engaging parents? Take a look at the Instant Impact Collaborative Cohort, Powerful Learning Practice’s program designed to fully support educators through the 2020-2021 school year. We’ll be standing side-by-side to navigate all of the questions and challenges that will arise!

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Jennifer Bloomingdale

Jennifer Bloomingdale graduated from the College of St. Rose with a Bachelors in Childhood Education and a Masters in Educational Technology. She is a former classroom teacher who developed a passion for integrating technology and assisting others in doing so. Jennifer has been an eCourse facilitator at Powerful Learning Practice since 2012, where she developed and facilitated courses on using Google Apps for Education and integrating technology. Her work at PLP introduced her to the world of coaching, which has lead to her becoming a certified evocative coach and an instructional coach.

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