The last few weeks found the official end of the school year for schools across the country. Virtual, drive-by, drive-in and social-distanced graduations capped one of most uniquely challenging periods in the history of education. Every educator is to be commended for the herculean efforts in ensuring that learning continued for our nation’s children. Congratulations. I know there is a little negative noise out there about the efforts of schools, but rest assured, the survey research already conducted clearly shows the vast numbers of families grateful to teachers everywhere for their support, concern, and compassion. Congratulations on a job well done. Take a breather…you deserve it.
Soon though (if not already), attention must be paid to the upcoming school year. At this point, there are more questions than answers. Superintendents with the help of internal and external constituents are trying to pave a way forward to keep learning at the focus but does everything imaginable to keep students and their families healthy and safe. It is a quagmire of a challenge, but knowing my superintendent colleagues, they will lead the way. Of that, I have no doubt.
I can only imagine the constraints and conditions that districts will have to navigate to continue learning and I will not, in any way, opine on what I think should or should not happen. What I am sure about is that the vast majority of families have been witness to the process of teaching and learning like never before and as a result, they have a far better understanding of “school” and what their child did (or didn’t do) in school today. Along with these new experiences will come new expectations. Families already report a strong desire to maintain engagement and involvement. The recent national survey reporting from Learning Heroes suggests that families have new front row seat and despite significant challenges, are engaging, want to engage, and most importantly, expect to continue engaging in their children’s learning life.
The door is open and the lock has been removed. It will remain open and that one fact should be a motivating force into improving upon what we have discovered during COVID (but really knew all along); families very much care about the learning lives of their children and are concerned about their children’s future given the obstacles that COVID has produced.
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of parents report more connection with their children’s day-to-day activities and 73% percent of families report that they EXPECT that this type of understanding will continue in the new school year. Parents want to seek more information on their child’s academic standing (69%) and will devote more time to discussing education and learning with their children (72%). Sixty-four percent (64%) have a strong desire to improve relationships with their children’s teachers. Less than 1/3 of families indicate that they will lower their expectations as a result of this disruptive year.
The opportunity to engage with families is at a point like never before. We can successfully shape learning experiences that are inclusive of families if we can learn how to design learning, constructivist in nature, that allows and accounts for the context of learning (school or home) and incorporates the materials, skills and knowledge of all families. Every family…every family is in a position to be a part of the learning team. To think that a family’s cultural background or economic standing dictates their level of commitment to learning and their willingness or ability to engage, is simply preposterous thinking. Now is the time to welcome families to the learning team, believe in their desire to engage, and effectively use the skills and knowledge they possess to support learning in the upcoming school year.
But beware…no matter to what lengths we try and go to improve family engagement, without a real relationship built on trust and honesty, the efforts will probably fall short. If you do not honor all families and convey true appreciation for what they can bring to the partnership, regardless of their station in life, then those families will see through your efforts to engage them with a lens of skepticism.
So, the door is open; actually, for the foreseeable future, stuck open. Whatever the fall looks like the truths that I think I can rest on are these: 1) It will look unlike any school reopening in history and 2) Families will be a critical and necessary component of the learning process. All of the other logistics will be worked out and we will see schools and educators do what they do best, adapt to the set of circumstances. However, we have this golden opportunity to finally, once and for all, engage every family in the academic lives of their children.
Let’s keep the door open and ensure that both families and us can easily pass through it. Together, we can overcome anything.