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Distance Learning Best Practices for Engaging Parents

Get the parents involved during this next round of distance learning with these best practices!

Did you feel lost, overwhelmed, and somewhat bewildered during school closures in the Spring? We all were. But from the switch to remote learning emerged some solid best practices for engaging parents during distance learning.

Teacher at computer for distance learning

We know without parent support, students do not progress as they should. The same applies to a virtual setting. If you’re starting virtually or using a hybrid model, let’s examine what does work well for engaging parents and families.

Distance Learning – Understanding the Families

Before we move onto best practices for engaging families with distance learning, let me share something important. I remember those first few years as a beginning teacher. My first teaching assignment took place in a school heavily Latino. It was in a low socio-economic community with many first-generation immigrants.

I figured I could relate easily to my students and their families. I am Latino, so were they. They spoke Spanish, so did I. Many of them were immigrants – me, too! Except, my experience is completely different from theirs!

Mother and daughter using iPad for distance learning

I am South American while many of my students came from Mexico or Central America. Our cultures are not the same. I came here on a plane, while my students and their families did not. I grew up in a solidly working-class family that made it to the middle class affording me the opportunity to go to college. My experiences are much different from my students and their families.

I’m pointing this out because even back then as now, we need to understand the situations the families of our students live. We need to give parents and students an opportunity to openly share their frustrations, needs, successes, and questions. Even in a distance learning model, we need to find the best practices for parent and family engagement.

Best Practices for Engaging Families during Distance Learning

As an instructional coach, my job is to support teachers with the best practices for distance learning. That includes how to engage parents and families. I’ve gathered a list of Best Practices for Engaging Families in Distance Learning. The list comes from listening to parent requests, teacher suggestions, and practical experience as both a teacher AND parent.

Pick some that resonate with you and are applicable to the families of the students you teach. Here are some ways to engage parents in a distance learning situation. Each of the three best practices for engaging families in distance learning has suggestions and ideas to implement that practice.

Best Practice #1: Surveying or Getting to Know the Families

Using email, Google Forms, Survey Monkey, phone calls, ClassDojo, Remind are great ways to send out surveys to families.

  • a good initial best practice is to survey parents during the first week of school as to who will be at home watching or helping the student during the distance learning period – not to be nosy, but to understand better the learning situation. Will it be a grandma? A childcare worker? The parent? Will there also be siblings? Will there be a quiet area? Many outside influences can distract the student during distance learning. You want to understand the student’s situation at home so you can find solutions to those distractions.
Survey parents for distance learning as a best practice
  • before school starts or once school has started, send out a parent survey asking about what special support their child/family may need during distance learning – keep it simple with a Google Form.
  • Survey parents for their preferred method of contact: App (Remind, ClassDojo, etc.), email, text message, phone call).
  • before school starts or during the first week and from then on, provide a consistent and easy way for parents to contact you directly – with expected turnaround time. For example, provide an email with the expectation that it will be answered by the end of the school day.
  • if students are being supervised at home by someone who is not the parent, ask the parents what information can be shared with this person.

Best Practice #2: Keeping Parents Informed

As a parent who had two kids at home attending school through distance learning, I appreciated how the teachers kept me up to date. That way, I could hold my own kids accountable.

  • Another best practice for distance learning is to keep parents up to date and in the loop! Have parents sign up for the Guardian Google Class summary emails. These can be daily, weekly or monthly emails a parent receives showing all the assignments the student has. You can learn more about it here on this post about setting up Google Classroom. These summaries require an email (parents can get a free account from Google) and can be viewed on any device, including a phone. As a parent, I monitored my kids to know which assignments were coming up as well as what was missing.
Using Google Classroom with Parents as a Best Practice for Distance Learning
  • If you use Google Classroom, set up a separate class for Parents. Have them join the class. Here in this class, you can post flyers, tutorial videos, resources or anything parents would find helpful. You can read more about how I’ve done this in the past.
  • Set up office hours specifically for parents – this is a time for them to contact you directly through an App like Remind, ClassDojo, or email for help. You might have different times for different days for working parents.
  • In concert with the parent office hours, you could also set up a Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype meeting specifically for parents to address common concerns or to ask questions.
  • Create a PDF for parents of the most frequently asked questions (with answers) that parents have asked about distance learning – post it or email it to parents.
Keeping parents informed during distance learning as a best practice
  • Have a pre-arranged protocol (district or school) to address or fix tech problems – set up a district or school weekly Tech Help event for families who need one-on-one help with the technology.
  • Provide links to parents with free resources such as the public library, free learning sites, mental health support services, and other district links.
  • If possible, email daily or weekly agendas to parents on the weekend so they can see how the week will flow.
  • If your district uses Parent Portals, verify parents have access and are signed up to view the student’s information and progress.

Best Practice #3: Building Relationships with Families

One of the best practices you can use for distance learning is to build those relationships with students and their families. They are even more important in a virtual setting.

  • Set up a monthly class Zoom social hour for families – you could have a talent content, art displays, sing-alongs, dance-along, scavenger hunt, play a Trivia game on Kahoot, etc.
  • Provide links to translation services such as Google Translate or district resources for language services.
  • If you have special needs students, include the Resource Specialist Teacher or Speech Teacher in a parent meeting.
  • Use Screencastify (free) to record short videos about yourself to share with families. If you have a YouTube channel (free with Google), you can upload the videos to your YouTube channel as unlisted but with a link, you can send it to parents.
Family on iPad during distance learning
  • Include families in a Social-Emotional Lesson.
  • Do a Weekly “Get to Know a Family” feature in which families can share digital copies of baby photos or family photos.
  • Play the FREE online Bingo to review key vocabulary or the week’s lessons.
  • Create a memory book for students. Ask parents to send digital pictures of students working at home, studying, practicing, etc. Create a slideshow memory book to share with families at the end of the year.

FREE Distance Learning Poster to Share with Parents

Don’t feel lost again during this next round of distance learning. Let’s get the parents involved, too! But parents will be nervous and concerned about starting with distance learning. So, I created this poster with 10 tips that parents can use to help their child be successful during distance learning. The posters come available in English and Spanish. Sign up below for my newsletter and get the FREE PDF Distance Learning Tips for Parents posters to share with your parents!

Don’t forget about the students! Check out this post on Distance Learning Best Practices for Engaging Students.

Share your best practices for engaging parents and families during distance learning!

Distance Learning Best Practices for Engaging Parents
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