For all of us working in schools, this is a time of huge change and uncertainty. The current situation came about extremely quickly and it is amazing how responsive teachers, leaders, and school systems have been. There are few professions that could have done what was necessary in such a short period of time.
We have many friends and colleagues working in schools across the country. They’ve told us the challenges they’ve faced and the innovative solutions that have come about. We’ve talked with countless parents who find themselves in a very different situation than they’ve ever experienced. While the current situation is far from ideal, there are perhaps a few silver linings that may come about as a result of what has happened.
One of these possibilities is creating a greater connection between the school and the home. There is tons of research examining the importance of family involvement in education, but perhaps most compelling is that of Wayne Hoy and his colleagues. After decades of research failing to identify ways to close the socioeconomic gap, Hoy and his colleagues finally identified three factors that have repeatedly been shown to work: strong academic focus, collective efficacy, and trust in parents and students. (For a summary, see Hoy, 2012.) The mutual trust factor was simultaneously identified by Bryk and Schneider (2002).
For all the challenges we currently face in providing distance-based education for our students, what an opportunity we have to develop trust between families and schools. There may never have been a greater opportunity to develop this trust for the schools that see it as an opportunity. “How can we foster stronger relationships and build greater trust with families?” should be a key question school leaders are asking themselves and discussing with their staff. Parents recognize this is new for teachers. They are also recognizing how hard teaching really is now that they are doing more of it at home! Teachers have the opportunity to recognize the hard work being done by parents. Having both groups find themselves mutually dependent on each other, presents fertile ground for the development of mutual trust.
Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:
What do my parents need to know in order to be successful partners in this new endeavor?
How can I best convey how important they are and how much I recognize and applaud their efforts?
How can I seek out their needs and offer support?
How can I connect my curriculum with things that students have access to at home and can do with their parents? How can I make my curriculum as “real-world” as possible?
Don’t expect parents to learn complicated algorithms or new ways of doing math in order to support their child. Help them ask their child the right questions so that their child can explain things to them. Don’t expect parents to manage every minute of instruction, there maybe other children at home or maybe they are still working outside the home. Give them efficient ways to check on work progress. Provide small ways to connect big learning concepts with “real world” application that is readily available at home.
The current situation is full of challenges. However, it may also be full of opportunity. We know how amazing teachers are and have still been blown away by what we have seen and heard. We have been amazed to see parents step up in supporting their children learning at home. There may be a wonderful opportunity to meld that work and create the type of trusting relationships that bridge the socioeconomic gap and reinforce learning for all students.
Bryk, A.S. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, NY.
Hoy, W. (2012), School characteristics that make a difference for the achievement of all students. Journal of Educational Administration. 50(1): 76-97.