Five Ways Teachers Can Support Parents at Home During School Closures

Here are five ways teachers can coach parents through at-home learning during school closures so that everyone feels more ready to return to the classroom whenever school resumes.

At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

News that schools are closed for the remainder of the school year in some parts of the country has families and educators wrestling with complex emotions, wondering whether remote learning might continue through the fall. Parents working without childcare support, while additionally facilitating their children’s education, are now looking to educators for guidance on how to prepare their children for whatever’s next. Here are five ways teachers can coach parents through at-home learning during school closures so that everyone feels more ready to return to the classroom whenever school resumes.

Praise Parents

Many elementary educators are familiar with this phrase, and now’s a great time to embrace this as a mantra. Due to their unique work and childcare situations, families are facing different challenges at home. The relative feasibility of at-home learning varies greatly amongst families at schools, and within districts. Some parents feel overwhelmed that remote learning is too much and are already opting out; others are frustrated that the programming is not enough. On both sides of that spectrum, many feel pressured to do what they are “supposed” to be doing – whether required or not. As parents fail to meet their own expectations struggling to juggle their work with schooling their children, feelings of inadequacy abound.

In your communications to families, lead with empathy by acknowledging that work and school will both be compromised at this time. Remind them that whatever they are doing – it’s enough. Recognize their efforts. Praise them for trying. Most importantly, reassure them that you and your colleagues will meet their kids wherever they’re at, whenever we return to school.

A young girl learns the alphabet on a tablet held by a caregiver.

Manage Expectations

As parents discuss and compare their experiences, schools and teachers are fielding a lot of questions—and armchair quarterbacking—about the rationales behind different approaches to remote learning. Parents might fear missing out, or lack insight into what is developmentally appropriate for their child. Some expect online learning to mimic the actual school day. Right now, teachers and administrators are essential to helping families recognize where their focus should be for daily and weekly accomplishments.

Even for parents who may have reviewed remote learning guidelines themselves (such as California‘s or Illinois‘ recommendations) not all have the context to process how this should shape their at-home learning environments. By explaining to families how your program suits your students’ attention spans, accommodates their digital literacy, and addresses their comfort-level with the intimacy of video conferencing — among addressing your grade-level content standards and desired learning outcomes — you can help them set reasonable expectations for their children, and themselves, when participating in it.

Help Families Get Organized

With many parents attending class virtually with their children, elementary teachers are essentially running dual-audience online courses. When posting content, consider ways parents can teach their children how to get organized to learn more independently.

First, avoid inbox overload by streamlining communications so that everything can be accessed in one place — such as the homepage of your website or Learning Management System (LMS) platform (e.g. Google Classroom, Canvas, etc). This helps busy parents easily find what they need and train their children to login and navigate it themselves.

Next, let parents know how you will be communicating with them throughout school closures, and then keep those updates consistent to build a routine. For instance, perhaps you send a Sunday night newsletter to prepare families for the learning week ahead. Remind parents in each newsletter where, when, and how to access the learning materials and activities for that week. Address what you’ve done thus far, and what’s up next. Consider keeping an activity feed or newsfeed on your LMS page populated with these updates, archived so that parents and students can easily catch up on what they might have missed.

Lastly, consider the technical feasibility of your assignments. Start by synchronizing assignments automatically with a calendar so that parents can easily manage deadlines. Activities that require extra parent involvement — such as taking photos, videos, scanning, uploading, or printing — are easier to manage when they can be processed as a batch and turned in on a flexible deadline. Asynchronous projects with flexible or long-term deadlines give families further leeway in scheduling their remote learning windows.

Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann encourage us to approach school closures with “a whole lot of patience and a whole lot of love.” Learn more about PBS SoCal and KCET’s At-Home Learning resources for parents teaching children at home.

Emphasize Everyday Learning Opportunities

This academic year is unprecedented as students everywhere are missing out on several months of learning new content, reviewing, and testing within their current grade level. Many parents are feeling anxious about their kids “falling behind” academically. Others may not realize that their kids are missing out on social and emotional learning, as well as the development of executive functioning skills that enable them to be stronger students as they mature.

Help parents recognize opportunities for everyday learning such as incorporating scientific inquiry, engineering design thinking, art and math into your household routine: cooking, cleaning, exercise, play, and taking mindful walks around the neighborhood.

Additionally, now’s a great time to help familiarize parents with the concept of executive function so they can recognize the tools they need to help their children develop to succeed as remote learners. By creating lessons around executive function skills that incorporate social and emotional learning goals, teachers can emphasize to parents the importance of fostering this learning at home through everyday life lessons. Some ways to implement these skills at home include sharing with a sibling, helping with housework, empathizing with the needs of others and exploring creative problem-solving.

Empower Parents as Partners

Essentially, teachers are now handing off the learning facilitation to parents — most of whom don’t really know their children as students. If you can share insights into the type of learners their kids are, and what you’ve observed about their classroom engagement, you’ll help parents troubleshoot how to engage their children in this new setting.

Furthermore, while many parents may know the content you’re teaching, they might not know how to help their children learn it at home. Teachers can support parents as tutors by modeling how to teach through pre-recorded video or small group video conferences. To empower parents as facilitators for self-directed, independent learning, consider giving parents a list of content standards for the year, learning outcomes, and basic lesson plans with tips for implementation. This can be a great way to help parents structure STEAM projects that require a more hands-on approach in a fashion that suits their family.

Parents can also practice their tutoring and teaching skills running small group sessions for enrichment and community-building. Leverage this partnership to help kids stay socially connected at this time.

Empower parents as partners in this process by helping them find the right balance of online versus offline engagement for their children. With empathy for their unique situations, helping parents recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to remote learning, and working with them to manage it for their children as best as you can, you can help parents feel validated in their concerns and well-supported in facilitating their child’s education at this difficult time for everyone.