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Repairing COVID-19's Effect on the Home-to-School Connection

How to rebuild parent-teacher communication as we come out of the pandemic.

Sam’s parents were relieved and saddened to see his last year of pre-K ending—relieved because the year has been "so bizarre," and saddened when they think about what he had missed. Dad said, “For such a friendly little guy, his friendships took a big hit.” Mom noted, “For me, our relationship with the school took a big hit. Online learning made the curriculum clear as a bell, especially because we had to help him learn it! But I missed the sense that the teacher was really ‘in it’ with him. It was more like we were her aids, not her collaborators in helping Sam grow.”

Even before COVID-19 invaded our lives, teachers were already reporting a trend in dwindling communication with parents. Even during the crucial pre-K and kindergarten years—when that bridge should be carrying important two-way traffic about health, friends, worries, strengths, and important events in both locales—amounts of real communication were dropping. Important face-to-face communication was decreasing while one-way communications, of which there is now a tsunami, was increasing thanks to our devices.

By elementary school, the NEA reports that 59 percent of parents never received a phone call from a teacher. This downward trend is particularly worrisome for those kids who "hold it together in one place and dump it all in the other." Without good communication, such kids get asked a million questions by parents and teachers to which they have no answers. As with so many things, COVID-19 has simply made this all worse.

In my consulting role at The Goddard School, I have consistently observed three positive outcomes when parents and teachers engage in two-way communication: 1) parents have more trust in teachers and value their impact on their children; 2) teachers feel more appreciated and competent as educators; 3) children simply do better in the classroom. They miss fewer days of school, feel more positively about it, share more of their experiences with the class, and are less likely to need discipline or feel concerning levels of stress in the classroom.

As COVID-19 slowly loosens its grip, here are some lessons learned on how to rebuild effective parent-teacher communication:

  1. Engage in informal face-to-face interactions at pick-up, drop-off, open house, volunteering opportunities, and parent-teacher conferences (both parents if it is a two-parent household). If face-to-face is not yet permitted, video conferencing builds better relationships than phone calls or texts.
  2. Prepare for conferences with goal-making as the agenda for discussion. Share strategies that work at home and/or school whether they be for the shy kid or the wild one.
  3. Always end with appreciation. If that does not feel right, that is a sign of trouble in a collaboration that needs work.
  4. Monitor how much information you "dump" on each other digitally. "FYIs" should aim to make the other party’s job easier or more effective. The kids will appreciate it and benefit, as will the grown-ups.
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