The effects of COVID-19 have altered schooling at all levels for the past two months, and its future influence over education is still unknown. Many of these effects have been negative, including lost instruction time due to the complications of “distance learning.”
Can anything good come from this situation?
I’ve wondered this myself on both a personal and professional level and have decided that there are already some positive outcomes. Families spend more time together. We’ve all had a chance to pause and see what life is like when we’re not rushing from one thing to another. These positives do not disregard the many negative effects, such as increased unemployment, poverty, and disconnection that will linger for weeks or months, but it’s important to continue to consider the other end of the continuum.
In recent days, I was talking with some teachers and learned about an unexpected positive outcome of this situation related to school/family engagement. Prior to COVID-19, many teachers did their best when it came to connecting with families. Perhaps they sent letters home in backpacks or used technology to send emails or messages through apps like Class Dojo. Some families responded, but others did not. When teachers did not hear from families, they may have continued to try to reach out, or they may have determined the proverbial ball was now in the family’s court. “If they want to talk to me, they know how to get in touch.”
With the move to distance learning, teachers have worked to connect with their students’ families, because they wanted to know how they were doing academically, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Teachers wanted families to know about meal pickup locations and the availability of both digital and paper forms of continued learning. During pre-COVID days, teachers saw their students almost every day, but now…they had no way to know if they were okay. It became imperative that they reach each family, and suddenly, it didn’t seem “okay” to not reach some families.
When normal communication attempts failed, teachers began using new tactics to reach families. They not only called and sent emails, but they worked to track down families who didn’t respond to those modes of communication. Some searched social media for family members, contacted known relatives and neighbors, or drove to the student’s house and knocked on their door. And they made contact with almost all of them!
These increased efforts at connection are already having some very positive results. Teachers are learning families can be contacted, even if it takes non-traditional methods. They are discovering these connections help to develop trust and relationships. Connecting with all families is not as scary as they once thought. It’s also eye-opening to realize that most families are appreciative of the care demonstrated by these actions.
Families are also learning. They’re discovering their child’s teacher really does want to hear from them, and they are not inconveniencing the teacher by reaching out with questions or concerns. They are also learning they can be a teacher to their child in ways they never expected.
Hopefully, these discoveries will linger into next school year as everyone involved realizes school/family engagement is not only possible, but it is also incredibly valuable. Trust, connection, relationship, caring – all positive outcomes. Instead of isolating and dividing, perhaps this pandemic situation will allow barriers that previously kept some schools and families apart to be broken down.