2020 has raised unprecedented challenges as educators, young scholars, and their families continue distance learning. Transitioning from an in-classroom curriculum to a Zoom-based or digital platform education can also bring communication gaps between teachers and parents.
“We have teachers who are older or not necessarily tech-savvy who have to learn how to [use] Zoom and create presentations or interactive activities for students,” says Diana Hernandez, a fourth-grade teacher at Union Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles. “Be patient with us, it is our first time with this, too. However, working together, we will make the best of this situation and push through it with the best possible outcome for our students.”
Cultivating a partnership with your child’s teacher is essential for a successful distance learning experience. Here are a few tips from teachers on how you can stay connected.
1 Make introductions early and keep an empathetic tone
The new school year is already underway, and schools are positioned for continued distance learning in 2021.
“Although we are physically distant, that does not mean that we have to be socially disconnected,” says Clarence McFerren II, a sixth- through eighth- grade teacher at Quioccasin Middle School in Henrico, Virginia. “Parents can effectively start a conversation about their child’s learning by first respectfully greeting educators and introducing themselves.”
If you haven’t introduced yourself to your child’s new or returning teacher, reach out to them to do so. This can be done with a simple email message, like “Hi, Mr. Turner, I’m Stephanie’s mother and I’m looking forward to working collaboratively to help make this school year a success…”
When reaching out to a teacher throughout the school year, remember that teachers are going through many of the same struggles you are. They might have their own children distance learning at home while they’re teaching your child remotely.
Be mindful that your communications are empathetic, and don’t encroach on their personal boundaries. Instead of saying, “You’re not making time to speak with me about Sean’s lesson! I need to get you on the phone ASAP,” an alternative might look like:
“Hi, Miss Edwards, I’m really motivated to do what I can at home to help Sean understand his lesson. Do you have time for a quick chat tomorrow after 3 p.m.?”
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2 Ask solution-oriented questions
Parents with a full workload might struggle with managing their child’s learning. If your child isn’t grasping a lesson or concept, consider focusing on solutions rather than a perceived failure.
Stacie Rego, a fifth-grade educator at St. Edward the Confessor Parish School in Dana Point, California offers a couple of ideas to start the conversation:
“By asking questions such as, ‘How can I support my child’s reading growth at home?’ or ‘What can we do to help our son feel more confident in math?’ parents demonstrate their openness to partner with their child’s teacher to fully support the child’s growth.”
It’s also helpful to prepare ahead of parent-teacher communication. Tracy Ridout, second-grade teacher at the Global Leadership Academy Charter School, SW in Philadelphia, PA suggests a short checklist:
“There are a few things parents can have in advance before a meeting:
- A list of their concerns.
- Specific areas of challenges their scholar is facing.
- An open mind to accepting that all of their concerns/challenges may not be solved immediately but will be addressed and worked on.”
3 Be flexible and transparent
As new developments with distance learning unfold, remaining flexible and transparent is important in staying connected with teachers.
Jessica Montes, a third-grade paraprofessional educator in East Los Angeles has encountered scheduling issues, last-minute cancellations, and delayed responses from parents during distance learning.
Montes always asks parents for their availability for the upcoming week or two. “That way if option A does not work out, I already know which other days will work,” says Montes. “Flexibility is crucial now and I think it’s best to have multiple options.”
Processes might change and schedules might change, so share your schedule with your child’s teacher to minimize back-and-forth scheduling. Heightened flexibility and understanding applies to teachers’ schedules, too. If your child’s teacher set their available office hours to weekdays only from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., respect their boundaries and set your expectations accordingly.
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4 Express gratitude for your scholar’s educator
Remember that teachers want to support you in helping your scholar succeed. It’s easy to forget that taking an entire classroom online is a monumental task that often goes underappreciated.
Piper Taylor, a junior high teacher for Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School in Newport Beach, California, admits that virtual learning feels “disconnected” for educators, too.
“Having that mutual respect and understanding for each other is huge,” says Taylor. “One email that comes to mind was a parent who focused on the positive. She got to have breakfast with her student, she got to watch them do their studies, they got to go outside and take a walk together, and she said, ‘thank you for supporting my kids throughout this really crazy time’ — and it moved me to tears…”
Acknowledging the challenges your teacher is facing alongside you, and being patient with them throughout the process goes a long way in developing a collaborative and meaningful dialogue.