One of the biggest challenges we faced during the pandemic? K-12 education. While there's been quite a bit of digital ink spilled over whether virtual learning was effective overall, stories of how virtual school events lowered the barriers for entry into parent-school partnerships for many families and increased parent participation haven't been getting the same attention. Let's take a look at some of the good we gained from virtual school events.
Parent Engagement = Student Success
Decades of research has repeatedly found that student success is highly correlated with parent engagement. School events such as virtual curriculum/back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, classroom parties, and more have had a positive impact on the critical connection between home and school. A few facts:
According to a National Parent's Union Survey of 1,013 parents:
- 64% reported being "a lot more or a little more" involved than before COVID-19
- Of those, 40% reported feeling "engaged," and 39% reported feeling "proud"
- When asked if the 2020-21 school year was an "eye-opening experience that showed me a lot about my child's education I didn't know before," 80% said they "strongly or somewhat agree"
With the help of unified communication as a service (UCaaS) platforms like Microsoft Teams, educators were better equipped to partner with families than ever before.
Five Barriers That Virtual School Events Helped Reduce:
1. Access to Technology - Initiatives such as 1:1 Device Programs, reduced-cost options for internet access from providers such as Comcast, and free Wi-Fi hot spot loaners helped bring families in closer communication with their children's teachers.
2. Work Schedules - For families with inflexible work situations, providing virtual options for engagement gave parents opportunities to connect with teachers using the devices most convenient for them, such as smartphones. Parents had more choices for ways to stay in the loop on their student's progress, lessons, and homework for the day.
3. Childcare and Transportation - In-person back-to-school nights and other school events often create hardships for families with transportation and childcare costs to manage. Virtual school events provided a way to participate while alleviating the strain of incurring the cost of sitters or navigating public transit.
4. Culture and Language - Often, teachers face the difficulty of connecting and building relationships with families settling in a new country. For these parents, navigating unfamiliar customs, systems, and nuances can be intimidating. Paradoxically, virtual school events allowed for such families to participate in the comfort of their homes, and gave teachers a glimpse into their student's family lives and backgrounds. This insight provided deeper exploration and connection, ultimately equipping teachers with tools to offer better support.
5. Participation Options -How often have parents had to "divide and conquer" in order to show up for school events? When circumstances such as work schedules, business travel, or custody arrangements keep one parent away from the school event, it's up to the available parent to take the lead. Virtual parent-teacher conferences all but eliminated this issue by bringing parents in different locations into the same event and/or provided a recording for the absent parent.
It Wasn't All Bad
While virtual learning laid bare some of the places where instruction and student engagement could be improved, it did widen the circle of inclusion through technology and teacher dedication, giving families with work conflicts, structural barriers to access, and cultural/language differences the opportunity to strengthen the critical partnership between schools and parents. Kindergarten teacher Julie Whitaker: "I noticed a marked increase in parent engagement when virtual options were provided to families. Even though in-person instruction has resumed, we plan to continue offering virtual participation choices for parents and guardians." When kids have the tools and parents have the information and connection they need - everyone succeeds.
Virtual Options For All
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