As we head deeper into September, we find ourselves in the midst of back-to-school nights, meet-the-teacher events, and more. Over the past year and a half, distance learning provided many parents and guardians with the opportunity to see into their child’s classroom (a sharp difference from the access they had pre-pandemic, when some schools shared little more than term grades and critical updates). Now that students are back on campus, some families want to continue having access to their students’ academic experience. It’s tempting to say, “We don’t do that,” but simply closing the window to their view may be counter-productive. In fact, it’s important to realize that some of the adaptations that schools developed are likely to become standard practice.
“We’re doing almost all our parent and guardian meetings remotely now—--and we couldn’t be happier!” We’ve heard this comment over and over in conversations with academic leaders about how they’ve adapted pandemic strategies for the future. Online meetings allow academic leaders to make crucial connections while minimizing disruptions to work or family schedules. As a former tech director, it warms my heart to learn that technology facilitates personal connection and interactions.
Maybe that power to connect via video conference is really just the tip of the iceberg. During the last year, campus leaders engaged in massive system overhauls, both structural and virtual, to better support students and their families. This year is the time to figure out how these new systems might enable us to provide families with insights, rather than just information. Just as my colleague, Liz Katz, charged school leaders with using our LMS to power-up new faculty onboarding, let’s consider what else can we power-up with our new capabilities.
Providing parents and guardians with total access to classrooms and courses would be inappropriate both in terms of community norms and students’ developmentally appropriate autonomy. However, there are ways in which giving parents insight into their students’ lives and educational experiences can facilitate connection between the parent/guardian and their students.
Every year, parents and other caregivers have lots of questions, and as Academic Leaders, a big part of our job is ensuring those questions are answered, and guiding families in making the best academic decisions for and with their children. Most of us publish course books and progressions, but those overviews don’t capture the classroom experiences that make our schools great. The question now is how to leverage the systems we put in place last year to help build community and connection this year.
Let’s recognize that teachers are a key part of this process. Academic Leaders need to help educators understand that effective communication builds trust between families and teachers, which in turn will translate into stronger relationships in the school-home partnership. When families trust teachers, that trust extends to the school as well. Digital systems allow educators to share more than the syllabus and textbooks; instead, they can use their tools to let families know what it’s like to share insights in a fourth grade literature circle, complete a lab in AP Physics, or present about a significant historical event in an eighth grade assembly.
The great gift of digital resources is how easily they can be shared, minimizing the burden on teachers and maximizing benefits to families. A video of an experiment that a teacher created last year can be embedded in this year’s back-to-school night PDF, or in next year’s course selection materials, making the experience more dynamic and engaging. Lower-tech works too. Laura Cox, a humanities teacher at Marin Country Day, takes the poem she reads to her classes every day, and sends it out to an opt-in parent/guardian email list. These messages give parents a sense of classroom discussions, articulate Laura’s goals for her students, and provide an opportunity for families to extend the conversation at home.
As we move closer to post-pandemic life, the technology that schools used as a solution for social distancing can now be repurposed to bring more connection to our campuses. Digital systems and resources are an essential new tool for strengthening the home-school partnership and inviting parents and guardians into the lived experience of the classroom--an essential element for building the relationships that make independent schools so strong.
What else can you think of that might pose a creative use of your newfound technical expertise to invite parents and guardians into the lived experiences of their children?
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)