We’ll use the term “parents” throughout this article to refer to any adult responsible for the care of a child, including grandparents, foster parents or other guardians.

There’s never been a better opportunity for schools to capitalize on the partnership with parents as there is now. As students continue to learn at home, parents are not just the adults children go home to at the end of the day, they are now an extension of the classroom in a way that has never quite been seen before. In short, we need parents as partners in order to make distance learning work. Here are three tips to partner with parents effectively this coming school year.

Recognize Parents as Experts

Parents know their children better than anyone, and that’s even more true over the last few months while many parents have spent more time with their children than ever before due to school and childcare closures. Parents have a wealth of knowledge about their children – what they love, what upsets them, what excites them, how they learn best… the list goes on. Honor their knowledge and experience by leaning into their expertise. Ask them about their child and really listen and make note of their responses. Consider a questionnaire or vision-setting sheet to gain even more knowledge about their child. Do not be dismissive of their requests or questions about their child. Remember, they know the child better than you do.

Figure Out How to Communicate

No two families are alike in how they engage with their child’s school. And in today’s world, each family is likely experiencing different realities. Some may be unemployed, others working essential jobs, others working from home. Some have access to technology all day, others may only see messages at the end of the day. We want to avoid sending one text message, not hearing anything back, and then determining that the family doesn’t care about their child’s education. Instead, communicate directly with each family, asking what method of communication works best for them. You may have to explore new methods or technologies, and you may have to communicate multiple ways to reach everyone. And remember, your methods may change over the course of the school year. Don’t consider that just because you found something that works in September, it’s smooth sailing the rest of the year. Be willing to adapt as parents engage in different ways. The work you put into reaching out to parents will be worth it.

Establish Norms and Mutual Boundaries

This new world of teaching from home comes with some joys (no commute!) but also plenty of challenges. One big challenge is the lack of separation between work and home. Many teachers are now opening their laptop at their dining room table or sharing their home office with a room that serves other purposes, such as a family room. This can make it challenging to separate work time with home time. Establishing clear boundaries around work and home are essential to avoid burnout and frustration. Then it is important to communicate these boundaries with families, as well as learn and honor boundaries they choose to set as well. Some boundaries to consider include office hours, when you will return messages you receive in the evening, what hours you’ll be open for drop-in calls or video chats, and when you’ll take breaks during the day. Establishing these boundaries on the front end will avoid headaches down the line.

Finally, remember that parents are going through an unimaginable about of stress right now. Many are dealing with the effects of the pandemic, others are experiencing racial trauma in light of recent events, and all are dealing with school in a new way while also attending to their other responsibilities. Be patient and have humility when interacting with parents. Any work you do now to establish a strong relationship will re-pay itself over the course of the year and beyond.

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