Updated: Sep 11, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic catapulted educators, students and their families into a new reality when schools shut down in the spring. Now, with many districts resuming remote learning, parents and guardians are playing a more hands-on role in their children’s education.
But guiding kids through online learning while juggling work and other priorities is tough, especially for those who have younger children or children with special needs. “I’m just overwhelmed,” a working parent of two Fairfax County Public Schools students tells The New York Times. “I am flying blind, I am uncertain, and I have a lot of anxiety.”
According to a Canvas survey of K–12 parents in the spring, 49 percent struggled to keep their children focused on schoolwork, and 30 percent reported receiving unclear instructions from teachers and schools.
Today’s parents and guardians are also trying to figure out how to promote self-direction and independence as their children increasingly use digital tools. In addition to basic troubleshooting, many are also learning how to navigate new platforms and adapt to schools’ updated distance-learning plans.
It’s no surprise, then, that they are looking to school leaders, tech teams and even teachers for more support — especially when it comes to using technology. Here are a few tips to help schools assist parents with online learning and make sure it’s more of a success and less of a headache for everyone.
1. Clearly Document the Remote Learning Game Plan Schools should properly document their remote learning plans so that parents and guardians thoroughly understand how instruction will be delivered and what is expected of students. Doing so will also give educators more clarity into any transition or alternative plans needed for the year.
This documentation should also note frequently asked questions and answers to those, as well as a list of key department contacts. It should also offer a troubleshooting guide for online learning platforms and any other tools students will be using.
It’s a good idea to use flowcharts in guides too. If something isn’t working, a parent may wonder whether it’s an issue with the platform, the device, or the school or home network. A flowchart walks parents through troubleshooting steps based on a given situation, allowing them to diagnose and hopefully fix the problem on their own. To ensure accessibility, schools should also provide guides and document processes in other languages when possible.
2. Get Your Tutorial Videos Ready By creating and sharing tutorial videos, schools can help parents familiarize themselves with a particular tool and teach their kids how to use it. Popular ed tech companies also have videos and demos tailored to parents that offer tips on using key features across their products. For example, Google has the “Tech Toolkit for Families and Guardians,” a video series on YouTube that walks viewers through G Suite for Education, Google Classroom, Google Meet and more. Microsoft has a similar series that shows parents how to navigate Microsoft Teams and Office 365.
Some school districts have even launched their own virtual learning courses to support parents and guardians assisting students with online learning. For instance, Houston Independent School District in Texas created an interactive online course complete with how-to videos on accessing the district’s learning management system, parent portal and other digital tools.
3. Figure Out How to Prioritize IT Requests With schools now increasingly reliant on ed tech, there’s no doubt that today’s IT teams are incredibly busy. After all, they’re up against a growing number of asks from educators and parents. That’s why it’s critical for districts to have a plan of attack that prioritizes certain tasks and designates tech support roles (such as a Tier 1 troubleshooter), at least for the first few weeks of school. Some larger school districts have opted for third-party call centers to handle Tier 1 requests to make sure everything runs smoothly.
4. Provide Effective PD Sessions for Teachers Teachers are usually the first point of contact for parents and guardians, so they, too, need to be comfortable answering tech-related questions during remote learning. That’s why training teachers on using digital tools and teaching them technical skills is so important. While they shouldn’t spend their entire teaching period troubleshooting, they do need to know how to respond to common tech issues, such as a student’s mic not working during a video call, so they can provide instant help. If it’s an easy fix, such as checking audio settings, it will definitely save a lot of time.
This school year won’t be easy for students and their families. But by having a clear plan, being organized and thorough, and communicating with patience, school leaders and educators can help them navigate this new frontier of online education.