Maintaining Parent and Community Engagement During a Pandemic

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
A man and woman talking over a Zoom video call.

The Importance of Parent and Community Engagement

The relationship between home and school is truly the success of every child’s educational journey. More now than ever, parents are trying to figure out the educational system; at the same time teachers are pushed to their limits as most are required to deliver their classroom instruction using several different modalities.

We are faced with a time where virtual meetings and even classroom instruction are taking place using some form of technology. As educators, how can we go about ensuring our parents and students are engaged and aware of all of the happenings that are taking place during the pandemic? This may sound nearly impossible, but as the times continue to change, so does our delivery of instruction and means of parent communication.

Communication continues to be a necessity, especially during these trying times. Students who are restricted to only a few days a week of face-to-face instruction or who are receiving their instruction completely virtually still need to be engaged fully just as they were before COVID-19 struck.

This also is the same for families and their engagement. Making parents aware of what the virtual expectations are, as well as the progress their child is making, should continue to be in place. The more parents are aware of what is happening at school, the more likely it will be that the parents will support the school, the teacher, and their child’s learning experience.

Community engagement is also important during this time. With social distancing guidelines in place, it can be difficult for communities and schools to come together to support students, whether that be through sports, fundraisers, or other activities. Schools must think outside of the box and get creative to come up with solutions that allow people to connect while still staying safe.

Strategies for Parent Engagement

Unfortunately, with the times that we are facing and more parents helping their children at home, parent engagement can be more challenging than ever. Sending constant communication home is extremely important to ensure everyone is on the same page in regards to what is happening at school on a daily basis.

Despite challenges and obstacles being in every educator and family’s way this school year, there are still several means of communication that can occur. If a school is completely virtual, they must ensure every child can access the curriculum and receive their instruction virtually.

If this cannot happen, the school must still provide the educational experience that every child is guaranteed once they are enrolled in a school. This would entail forms of communication to take place electronically if students do not receive their instruction in person. This can be done so through emails; apps used by teachers for classroom communication; classroom platforms adapted to have a central location for instruction and set up for instruction, whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous; as well as making phone calls home to parents.

Parent conferences also should not be overlooked. While we are faced with many restrictions and parents are not permitted in the buildings during this pandemic, conferences can still take place. Often conference calls, for which parents just need a working telephone, can take place, or meetings via some type of virtual platform can be used as well. Often districts find themselves using Zoom, Google teams, or even Facetime calls to allow for meetings.

While we still want to keep our schools feeling as close to normal, it is so very important that we continue to make school a fun place to be. Birthdays are something at the elementary level that often brought in parent volunteers and were an exciting time for students. Schools have had to be creative as parents are not permitted in the buildings nor is outside food allowed to be shared. Instead, school cafeterias are getting involved to give parents the opportunity to purchase special snacks for their child on their special day. While this doesn’t work for all schools, it is just one example as to how we can continue to keep school fun and allow parents to join in on the great things that still make the school year feel a bit like it used to.

Strategies for Community Engagement

Community members also play a big part in our school families. During a normal school year, several volunteers have the availability to step foot into our schools and join our classroom communities. Restrictions have been placed on all visitors, which does greatly impact our community and their support.

Several districts are now livestreaming their board meetings. Surprisingly, this has brought a lot of community engagement to our schools. Several districts have witnessed hundreds of community members “zooming” along with administrators and board members during monthly board meetings; where as in a normal school year attendance has only been a handful of people. Discussing how schools and districts are moving forward is often the conversation that takes place during board meetings. By having such a large population of community members logging in to watch, this has enhanced the communities’ engagement during this challenging time.

Another huge event that has attracted a large amount of community engagement is several districts live streaming their sporting events. Community engagement doesn’t end with just what happens within the walls of the school. Instead their support for all activities, including sports, is huge and so important.

Community members are able to log in and watch high school sports right from their living rooms; as well as continue to keep themselves not only safe but also involved in what is happening within the districts. Some districts have even offered sporting events on a huge outdoor screen and have the area set up as a “drive-in”. This again is an example of educators and the school community trying to think of creative ideas to keep everyone engaged and enthusiastic about what happens within our school community.

After months of every family, every school, and every community being impacted by COVID-19, now more than ever it is important for everyone to come together to continue to support our greatest assets: our students. Being creative, kind, and willing to hear how people want to be involved is extremely important. While we may initially think we have to turn community members away based off of guidelines we have to stick to, we must continue to think out of the box and keep our community and families engaged to make the entire educational experience a positive one for our students.

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