Parent training: 5 ways to help parents support distance learning

Collaboration between school and home results in better outcomes for students, and during the pandemic school districts can take action to support struggling parents, especially parents of children with special needs.

District leaders acknowledge that the many passwords, platforms, schedules and assignments associated with virtual learning are overwhelming to parents who are assisting their children this fall.

Parents are exhausted by managing their child’s classwork in addition to taking care of their other responsibilities, such as work demands, says Naomi Tyler, director of the IRIS Center, a technical assistance center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs. But, she adds, “The data is clear: When there’s collaboration between school and home, the outcomes for students are so much better.”

Bridging the gap between home and school has always been important, but it’s even more critical now as students are unable or unwilling to return to school buildings for in-person learning. Parents of multiple children, younger children, and children with disabilities may have greater struggles assisting with distance learning.

To help parents and caregivers focus on the efforts that impact learning, Wichita (Kan.) Public Schools is offering a Parent University program in collaboration with Common Sense Media. This support consists of live and recorded webinars on various topics, such as guidance on tracking students’ assignments and classroom progress. Guides were also distributed to help families understand the remote learning policies, daily schedules, and even suggested activities for break times.

“We needed to offer a variety of supports to families and caregivers to help remove some of the barriers and prepare a foundation for the new learning experiences,” says Heath Peine, the district’s executive director of student support services.

IRIS also developed parent-friendly resources and tips for parents about best approaches for at-home learning. Districts can share resources with parents and incorporate these recommendations into their own practices. “Parents have to be engaged,” Tyler says. “They are the most important influence.”

Here are a few ways schools and districts can support parents at this time, according to several IRIS modules posted on its website:

1. Encourage simple strategies. IRIS’s tips to parents include setting up a learning space for their children, establishing a routine and discussing behavior expectations. Schools can help with these missions by providing parents and students with synchronous learning schedules, as well as reviewing the school’s online behavior expectations for students.

2. Hold virtual training sessions. Whether your district is using a new or tried-and-true distance learning platform, offer an optional training session for parents on how to navigate the websites. Your district may also have new protocols for reporting absences or illnesses, which can also be reviewed at these sessions. Remember to also share critical information about school operations in written form to parents.

3. Offer small-group information sessions. A large schoolwide meeting with parents is a good way to share overall plans and schedules but consider also holding smaller group virtual meetings that provide topic-specific information. For example, separate meetings could be held for elementary, middle and high school parents, or parents whose children have an IEP.

4. Give tips on social and emotional well-being. There’s no doubt that everyone—educators, parents, and children—is feeling anxious, worried, and stressed at this time. That’s why it’s important for schools and parents to collaborate on caring for students’ social, emotional and physical health. Wichita Public Schools is maintaining a behavior hotline for parents to talk with a behavior specialist regarding any support they need at home.

Schools should also consider providing opportunities for students to safely meet in person or virtually for assemblies to celebrate school spirit, extracurricular and club activities, or for sports and exercise groups. School leaders can also provide strategies to parents about responding to their children’s emotions and provide helpful tips, such as the importance of healthy eating and sleeping routines.

5. Be prepared to respond to different needs. All students may be learning virtually but that doesn’t mean all families will have the same experience. School leaders should understand that each family is unique and to not prejudge individual circumstances. Be open to questions, suggestions and requests for ongoing supports and collaboration. Additionally, help parents find support networks so they can connect with others facing similar challenges.

Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

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