“I think that before, particularly in high school, parents’ perspective was, ‘You deal with them at school and we deal with them at home.’ Even with my own daughter I was very much that way!” Beth Sullivan laughs. The Texas middle school teacher finds humor where she can while leading remote learning during a pandemic. “I think what’s happened now is that parents realize more that it’s a three-way team. It’s the teachers, the student and the parent—and that our communication is really important.”
Educators are feeling the change in parent-school relationships everywhere— an unexpected side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now they understand how critical it is that we have that direct communication. Right to the teacher and the teacher right to the parent,” Deputy Superintendent Lee WIllis is pleased to see communication gain strength in his Alabama school district. “One of the greatest challenges we faced was communicating with parents—our expectations and what we are going to try to do.”
Barriers between school-home relationships include language differences, absence of internet at home, parents in essential positions outside the home, and lack of smartphones. Any one of these can sever the home-school connection that was already threatened by the sudden shutdown.
Nevertheless, communication between parents and educators soared during the first few weeks of the shutdown. Teachers and administrators rushed to establish contact and stability with parents and provide continuity in instruction. Whether setting up remote learning structures, developing a paper-based curriculum, or offering emotional support, educators and parents began talking more than ever.
THE RIGHT TOOLS MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
“What would have been a heavy lift for us became so much lighter for our teachers that they were able to reach out to 100% of our parents the first week and that was our ultimate goal,” Dr. Carla Evers left no stone unturned in her Gulf Coast district. “We were able to use SchoolStatus to touch and communicate with all of our parents, and I’m not sure teachers would have been willing to call from their personal cell phone or their homes, but this made a way for them.”
Further north near Memphis, Desoto County educators have had a similar experience. “SchoolStatus has been the best, because we can continue to communicate back and forth with parents—that’s easy!” explains Principal Sara Jane Russell. “The apps, the Bloomz, the Reminds, all of that is not as personal.” Instead of wondering if we’re just another app, “parents like that our messages just come in as a text. They feel the ease of communication, the ease of contact.”
The shutdown has shown that having a tool in place to reliably, demonstrably, reach every parent is essential to maintain continuity in the coming school year. “Prior to my district buying SchoolStatus, what I did was I went into our grade program, copied down every parent’s email address, made a group file, and was sending out weekly emails to parents as a group email,” explains Sullivan. “It’s not individualized, it’s not personalized, it’s not in their language in some cases. It was not nearly as effective as this is.”
Principal Russell has a process in place that helps her speak to everyone, “I communicate en masse through SchoolStatus a lot. I send one mass message a week, to let them know I’m still here. I use Broadcast which creates the one-to-one [conversations] which then creates lots of open communication with parents. They’re sending me pictures of their kids, and what’s going on. Most of it is just about their well-being. Smiling, letting me know how they’re doing.”
The increase in parent communication will be a benefit in the fall when districts restructure schedules and manage many other changes that cannot happen without clear communication. “I think the parents are going to be more receptive [in the future],” Djuna Dudeck shares. With close to 1200 students in her Arkansas middle school, Professional Development Facilitator Dudeck knows a thing or two about keeping tabs on moving parts. “I think this is going to change the vision of the families.” Education in the United States has taken a drastic turn, and many details remain unknown. It’s unlikely that our schools will ever go back to being exactly as they were. But with parents more involved than ever, now is the time to establish communication processes, frequency and consistency—while parents are engaged and informed. “Across the board, SchoolStatus has been a tremendous partner in helping us to bridge that gap in communication,” says Deputy Superintendent Lee Willis. “It’s not a one-way dialogue, it’s two-way dialogue with parents and teachers and that just helps us in so many ways.”
Beth Sullivan, Teacher, Sanger Independent School District
Lee Willis, Deputy Superintendent, Morgan County School District
Dr. Carla J. Evers, Superintendent, Pass Christian Public School District
Sara Jane Russell, Principal, Desoto County School District
Djuna Dudeck, Professional Development Facilitator, Pulaski Special School District