I have the privilege of speaking to a lot of parents. I recently made the switch from supporting teachers to supporting caregivers, opening a small business called The Community Classroom in western New England. I now spend my days listening to parents and caregivers talk about their questions and concerns about their child’s education and together we plan a path forward.
I’ve noticed a handful of themes throughout the past months shadowed by the clouds of the pandemic. And I think it’s great insight into our public schools—through these snapshots of families in multiple states and multiple schools, I can see commonalities in family perspectives and education experiences. It might be a small sample size, but I’m willing to bet it’s representative.
Here are six themes I’ve heard over the past year (with big questions for schools and districts to consider as food for thought):
- This year was as stressful on parents as it was on kids.
Parents have been caregivers, teachers, tutors, coaches, after school care workers…and many have been working full-time from home all the while. This is on top of the added cloudy layer that living in a pandemic puts on top of caregivers. One of the major concerns for many of our kids was the disruption and lack of normalcy to two school years. Well, that stress was on many parents as well. Just one more thing for them to worry about on a toppling plate of concern.
Question: How can we make parents and caregivers feel better about last year?
- Parents are really concerned about missed instructional time and learning loss.
I rarely run into a parent who isn’t concerned about their child’s education, but these past two school years have even the most laid-back parents feeling uneasy. It’s a common theme, and something that I hope schools and districts pay attention to. I’m a bit worried about the plans I’ve seen for helping students “catch up.” I’m not sure that extended school days are what we need—I think we just need to let our kids breathe and ease back in. Let’s reshuffle our benchmark timeline, not squeak in more hours of the same instruction.
Question: How can we shift our systems that we’ve had in place for decades to adjust for the dumpster fire that was last year?
- Parents don’t always know how to support their kids in learning, and they don’t always know where to go to get help or resources for their kids.
Parents come to me with so many questions. It’s like schools are these big nebulous black holes of navigation. And I don’t think it’s from lack of communication, but I think it’s from OVER communication. I don’t know about your house, but we could start a small landfill with the amount of paperwork we get at the beginning of the school year.
Question: How can we make paths to solutions simpler, crisper, and cleaner for parents?
- Our traditional, public schools aren’t meeting the needs of some of our kids.
I have always been a die-hard public education priestess. I love it, I preach it, I might have the tattoo on my body. But this year supporting families has really opened my eyes to how public schools serve—and don’t serve—some children. I’ve worked with families who decided to homeschool their children due to the pandemic and their children thrived. I’ve supported teachers with a pod of students—and the children thrived. I’ve worked with rural families who didn’t have the wifi for Zoom school offered by their districts, so no access except for packets of worksheets prepared by the teachers. And I’ve supported families of high schoolers who found that their children could actually take classes at the community college or other college classes instead of those offered by their local high school—and thrived. It hasn’t soured my love of public education, but it sure has flipped many of my beliefs on their heads.
Question: How can we take the diversity of options created during the pandemic and use them to create stronger, public schools that truly differentiate to the beautiful variety of learners?
- Virtual school was actually a lifesaver for some kids.
One of the supports we offer to families is academic coaching. These are the teary phone calls with parents who don’t know where else to turn with their middle or high schooler who is in danger of failing school. There are so many reasons for this, but a majority of those reasons fall under the bucket of overwhelming anxiety. And for kids who have social anxiety, a way to remove a large barrier to learning (the social part of it) is virtual schools. Some kids are THRIVING with virtual school, being able to attend from the safety of their own living room.
Question: How can we take this success and ensure that kids have the option of high-quality virtual school as a way to deal with social anxiety?
- Parents have a lot of unanswered questions about educating their children. And parents need more than just a yearly parent math night or literacy fair to get those questions answered. And I’m not sure handing out a teacher’s cell phone is the right answer either. I’m trying out a new solution to support parents in getting their education questions answered through a new podcast series—To The Core: An Education Podcast For Parents. I’m not sure that’s the golden ticket either—I think we need a multi-pronged approach. What I do know is that parents and caregivers do want to better support their kids with learning at home and they have a lot of questions about how to do that.
Question: How can schools rethink traditional communication channels and create new models that truly help parents and caregivers get their questions answered, making teachers’ jobs in the classroom easier?