Distance learning has created many challenges, particularly in terms of engaging students, and educators are making great efforts to capture their attention. While engagement is essential for student success, perhaps the concept of engagement needs adjustment in our present circumstances.
I’ve observed teachers coming up with innovative ideas to help students become more engaged. Teachers can use Jamboard, Seesaw, Pear Deck, and Kahoot, but they can’t create incentives and activities to boost the engagement of chronically absent students.
With students at home, the physical presence teachers and students desire has been replaced by that of parents and caregivers, and thus teachers’ relationships with parents and caregivers have a greater importance this year. Willingly or reluctantly, parents and caregivers have been thrust into a new role. They’re not co-teaching in the traditional sense of the six co-teaching methods, but they are more engaged in their children’s education than they were in the past.
In remote or hybrid models especially, engaging parents and caregivers is key to fostering elementary students’ engagement, which manifests itself in the classroom in various forms. At its core, student engagement is attentiveness to their educational investment—this definition is universal even in remote learning, but during remote learning engaging elementary students begins with engaging guardians.
Helping Parents and Caregivers Transfer Engagement
Many parents and caregivers want to help their children but don’t know how. They need help to transfer engagement to students. Here are three specific ways teachers can help parents and caregivers in this mission.
1. Be explicit: Provide a clear pathway for parents and caregivers to assist in specific areas. Leave no doubt when explaining details of how they can support their children. They most likely want to help, but some may need direction. At a meeting with a parent, a teacher at my school enlisted the parent’s support to understand her child’s areas of growth. This teacher provided the parent with a clear path of what she would do to help the student grow, using the phrase, “This is what I need from you.” The parent left the meeting knowing how to help her child. Furthermore, the partnership was established with a mutual understanding that neither teacher nor parent alone could help the student reach the growth objectives.
One common theme echoed by teachers is the frequency at which students disappear throughout the school day. GoGuardian creates a report of student activity to present to parents and caregivers. With the information in hand, ask them if they are able to check in with their child every 30 minutes to ensure students are active and present in the virtual learning classroom. Frequent check-ins will help students remain on task and eliminate distractions.
In other instances, more academic support outside of school hours may be warranted. Ask parents and caregivers to review content in the morning or prior to bedtime. When they understand the task, helping their child stay engaged becomes more routine.
2. Invest in families: Engaging parents and caregivers requires more than direction. When students are not in live sessions with the teacher, or after school hours, many guardians can provide students with academic support, but they are not trained educators, so this takes an investment of teachers’ time.
For example, I have observed a teacher meet with caregivers regularly to explain concepts introduced during the week. Each week, the teacher provided them with videos detailing step-by-step instructions on how to compute math problems, promote writing skills, and work on language arts objectives. In addition, the teacher provided troubleshooting videos for any technical difficulties the students might encounter. The teacher dedicated one day a week to ensure parents and caregivers had the necessary skills to answer student questions after school hours.
This teacher understood that families are valuable resources, and she has seen increased student attendance and engagement in the virtual lessons. The time spent with parents and caregivers has produced results in keeping students engaged.
3. Be realistic: Many parents and caregivers have multiple children, and employment obligations, so educators must be realistic when engaging them. These parents and caregivers want to help their kids learn, but the primary role of educators remains with the trained professionals, so flexibility is critical to decrease guardians’ stress and increase student engagement.
Each day this year seems to present unforeseen circumstances. Work with parents and caregivers to provide options in managing these circumstances. Some instances may call for shorter assignments or varying methods of assignment submissions. In the end, we should aim to provide realistic options for families to help students succeed.
Remote learning has undoubtedly fatigued teachers, parents and caregivers, and students. The creativity of teachers to maintain the attention and engagement of students is to be commended and applauded. But no matter how hard teachers try, students are disengaging at high rates, and trying to re-engage them with online platforms and Google extensions is futile if they’re chronically absent. The relationship with families during remote learning is crucial.