Written by Grace Romanelli

Teachers want parent-guardians to know how important and needed their input is in the parent-teacher relationship. 

In my experience, parent or guardian participation in a student’s education is one of the most inconsistent, and unpredictable aspects of teaching.

I checked with several teachers on this to ensure a range of perspectives and got confirmation on all fronts.

Elementary teachers, high school teachers, teachers in urban and rural districts, teachers in high performing schools and minimally-resourced schools, all tend to agree that parent or guardian participation in their student’s education can be described across the board as inconsistent.

On a good day, in a good school year, this is an issue. This year, in the midst of a pandemic that has put so many in a completely virtual setting, others in a hybrid model, and others still in a more traditional setting with added rules and strict regulations, parent/guardian participation could be the deciding factor as we all walk a tight rope to success.

What Does My Participation in My Student’s Education Look Like for You?

The argument could be made, and data quite possibly might show that since the COVID closures, teachers have been communicating with parents more than ever, and that parents have been more responsive than ever! However, comcornmunication does not equate to participation.

Regardless, it is becoming increasingly evident that parent or guardian participation will hold a heavier weight this year than ever before. So the question for parents/guardians to ask of their student’s educator is: What does my participation in my student’s education look like for you?

Proactive Communication

As a high school teacher, I have found it to be most helpful when parents or guardians reach out proactively to establish a line of communication, as well as communication norms. I believe this aspect is quite different for high school and elementary teachers.

The reason proactive communication is so helpful in high school is simply: the numbers. In the past 7 years, I have taught an average of 140 students per year. Many elementary teachers teach multiple subjects to the same group of students, which makes communicating easier simply because there are less people to communicate with.

Nevertheless, I feel as though the following piece of advice is applicable to all levels of education.

I have always found that I have the strongest and most successful relationships with parents and guardians who reach out to me, establish norms for communication that work best for them (for example: text messages, emails, phone calls, preferred time, cultural considerations) and who respond back to me.

Cutting Short the “Us vs. Them” Mentality

Many times, I will send out a message using some sort of learning management system or messaging platform, which allows me to batch update parents and guardians all at once. It’s easy to read these passively, but when parents/guardians get in the habit of replying to these each time, a  positive or simply neutral dialogue is established organically and without there having to be a problem first, which is crucial!

When the first communication I have with families is because something negative has occurred, it often creates a feeling of “us against them” where them is the teacher, and maybe even the school. This approach is not only not participatory, it is toxic.

Track Your Student’s Progress and Grades

Another thing that is even more helpful in a virtual model than a traditional model, is when parents/guardians know their student’s grades before they are formally reported.

This has two caveats – parents/guardians must know how to check their student’s grades; and they must check these grades consistently.

The reason this will be so important in a virtual model is because the level of monitoring a student normally receives is virtually (ha) impossible to recreate in this altered setting.

Students can turn cameras off, are susceptible to distractions that do not exist in a physical school, parents/guardian might need to work while their student “attends” class – there are a number of factors contributing to less or a lack of student work monitoring, so parents/guardians need to take advantage of the monitoring tool that will be available – grades.

In virtual school, it is arguably easier than it has ever been for parents and guardians to have a complete picture of what their student is doing or not doing, since all of their work is visible online somehow. However, at the very least, checking grades on a consistent basis will give a solid picture of what is going on “in class”, just as it always has.

Follow School Procedures

Finally, one thing that has become perhaps more of a challenge in COVID times is following procedures.

This is extremely vague, I know, but one thing that I have experienced personally is being asked and expected to provide resources that I cannot.

Asking a teacher for something that someone else in the school is responsible for has, in my mind, two potential outcomes:

Know What the Teacher’s Responsibility Is

1- The teacher ignores the request because it is not their responsibility and the family’s need is not met. 

The first scenario not helpful to anyone, but more importantly, causes harm. Even if the only thing seemingly harmed is the family’s relationship to the teacher or school, the effects are often farther reaching. 

Find Out Who is Responsible for School Policies and Procedures

2- The teacher takes time to properly connect the family to the resources they need, therefore taking the teacher’s time away from other commitments.

The second scenario, though much less harmful, adds to the seemingly growing list of teacher responsibilities, which is often unfair and can breed feelings of frustration and resentment.

It is easy, even intuitive, for families to go to one source for everything school-related; but parents and guardians should be aware of the time commitment involved in virtual teaching and how adding even small tasks to that commitment can be a stressor.

As a rule of thumb, for policies and procedures that the teacher does not take onus of in his/her classroom, find the appropriate procedure or contact person in the school and follow the steps laid out.

Consistency is Key

In summary, the most helpful ways that parents/guardians can facilitate learning in whatever environment the coronavirus pandemic has placed their student(s) in are:

  1. Participate through proactive communication and positive or neutral dialogue consistently
  2. Track student progress consistently
  3. Follow the proper pathways and procedures that are established within the school consistently.

One truth remains in the parenting world even during a pandemic: consistency is key.