Wednesday, April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Silver Lining: Strengthening the Family-School Team

One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is the opportunity to forge stronger, more promising connections with students and families. To strengthen the learning community ties and commitment to one another may be a positive result of the challenge this time presents for so many. Strong learning teams of family members, students, educators, administrators, and community members truly enrich a child's experience of school. How can we make this time matter in that regard?

At the foundation of strong learning community relations is listening. The better we listen to one another, the better the relationships will be. How can we enhance listening at a distance via technology?

We have to find ways to open up the channels of communication so that all members of the learning team are able to "talk" to one another via ideas, comments, and questions. We have to meet the commentary, ideas, and questions with an open mind, positive attitude, and willing response. We must have the attitude that we're better together and that everyone has something of value to contribute. There is no one-size-fits-all here as the situation for every family will be somewhat different, but there can be a one-size-fits-all attitude which is together we can best serve the children.

Our common focus has to be what's best for the child beginning with essential needs such as healthy food, a good night's rest, a safe home/neighborhood, and basic tools for learning. As we work with school teams and families, we have to make sure our students have what they need to be safe and healthy. I know that so many in the community are there to help, and if a child is in need, it may simply mean providing the family with a phone number or link to an organization that can solve the problem. By asking families/students, "What can I do to help?" is one simple way to open up communication about the needs that exist and then by working with colleagues, it's likely you will provide some support.

After a child's essential needs are met, the next step is to coach the child in ways possible to continue learning. Questions such as How can I help you to continue to learn? What are you curious about? How would you like to learn that? What do you need to help you learn better? can all help direct the learning in positive ways. The more you listen to your students and focus on what is best for their overall health, happiness, and continued learning, the better you'll be able to meet that potential.

Transparency and Information Share
  • Virtual Class Website: There are many ways to make your learning/teaching program transparent and helpful to children and families. A "virtual classroom" website that hosts the essential learning links and information helps everyone on the learning team. Our team has a website like that, and in the past few years, I have noticed that students and families use the website as a resource often. Families distanced by language or cultural barriers find the website particularly helpful as they can easily translate articles and information into their home language and/or take the time they need to read, understand, and, if needed, ask questions about the information presented. So, if you don't have a website now, this is a good time to make one.
  • Daily News Banner: On the daily or weekly learning menu, it's great to have a news banner. On that banner you can add the latest news, links, and inspiring messages to coach your learning team ahead. We've been updating our banner regularly to make it fresh and to keep the learning team engaged, inspired, and recognized.
  • Learning Menu: Our team has created a weekly learning menu that students can access to understand the daily expectations. The banner offers a number of learning options in every subject area as well as Google Meet addresses, times, and names. This helps everyone to know what the expectations are and how to access the related materials, videos, and support. 
  • Google Slideshow Shares: We've also created a slideshow that's open to all learning team members so that they can share the learning they are doing at home. This is one way to recognize the amazing at-home learning that's happening such as building with legos, cooking, creating a youtube channel, gaming, gardening, and more. This slideshow also provides a good vehicle of sharing ideas since one child's creative learning may inspire another child to do the same. 
Emails from learning team members will range from super positive to super negative. Prior to answering any email or phone message, please remind yourself of the toll that this pandemic is taking on so many families. Last week at the grocery store, an older man threw his grocery basket on the floor and stomped out of the store. He was the only person without a mask on in the store and he was recognizably disgruntled. The kind clerks in the store all tried to imagine why the man would do that. As I talked with them, we reminded each other that we have to be sensitive to the many experiences people are facing now. The man could have had the virus; he could have been scared; he may have been lonely, or had a sick relative. With that in mind, we must expect emails that are similar to the loud thump of a grocery basket thrown to the ground, and when we receive those emails, we have to respond first with empathetic words such as, Thank you for letting me know this information. Let's see how we can make the situation better. 

Clearly, none of us are experts in this situation, but we can all work together with the common focus of doing what's best for children--that's the glue that connects our learning/teaching team members.

Pay it Forward
I recommend keeping a list of all the positive efforts and interactions that occur amongst and between learning/teaching team members and using that list to continue this good work when we hopefully return to our school campuses and classrooms in the fall. Strengthening the learning/teaching team is certainly one silver lining opportunity of this pandemic, and taking advantage of this opportunity will only better what we can do in the future together.