June 22, 2020 - No Comments!

How Teachers Can Connect with Students & Families During At-Home Learning

Monica Sherwood

This is part three of our ongoing series about edTech industry shifts in at-home learning. To check out the whole series, click here.

Strong relationships between students and teachers support academic growth and social-emotional development. During at-home learning, however, those connections have been harder than ever to make and maintain.

As the school year comes to a close, you'll gain valuable insight by reflecting on the ways in which teachers have been thrown into the role of tech support for students and families. These insights will also inform the ways you approach remote summer school practices, as well as any at-home learning experiences that may arise in the future. 

Even after the last three months of at-home learning, you're most likely still finding your own way on digital learning platforms and changing your lessons to accommodate digital formats. Our new reality also comes with outsized expectations and added pressure from administrators and parents.

Through it all, you've had even fewer opportunities to forge the meaningful, one-on-one connections with students that make a difference in their learning. This will remain true during abridged summer school schedules, where teachers are under increased pressure to demonstrate growth from students they often do not know. 

edTech will never replace teacher-student relationships, but learning tools and digital platforms can help you make the best of a bad situation. Here are four expert tips for connecting home and school using edTech tools:

1. Survey your families 

Design anonymous surveys to ask parents and families honest questions about their access to technology and their current frustrations with at-home learning. 

Use survey language that assures families you can accommodate for a lack of tech access. Whatever the specific needs of your class may be, it's a good idea to prioritize apps that have strong mobile versions. Time and again, our research has shown that students use their caregiver's mobile devices to complete and submit assignments for school.

Surveying parents about their biggest frustrations can also yield great insights. Maybe parents are struggling to find time to read with their children while they work from home, and they’re feeling guilty. Whatever the stand-out concerns are, you'll be able to pivot your attention there and provide extra support or resources, as needed.

2. Set expectations and keep students accountable

There’s nothing like a morning meeting in a classroom with your students. Those fifteen minutes give you the opportunity to assess every student in the classroom. You can see who didn’t sleep last night, who might be sick, or who’s feeling chatty.

Our new digital reality might make this check-in more challenging, but it's still crucial. The more you can set expectations during a check-in meeting, the easier it will be to keep everyone accountable and engaged.

If students aren't checking in regularly or completing assignments, reach out to parents directly through email, phone calls, or the "parent" persona on an app. You'll want to make sure any communication between yourself and parents stays separate from student communication channels, too.

3. Explore grouping options

Group apps or digital resources by what will work best for self-guided learners, average students, and students who need one-to-one support.

Self-guided, independent learners who enjoy setting their own pace, exploring their own interests, and taking a more active role in their learning will do well during at-home learning. Curate a list of resources these students can explore, along with directions and accountability guidelines. This will make it easier to check their progress and discuss their learning without pivoting away from the needs of your other students.

When it comes to helping students who need a little TLC, consider how you’re directing your energy. One-on-one time might be more helpful for these learners than using digital apps that may or may not be accessible to their individual needs. 

4. Make time to connect

Divide and conquer to create more opportunities for personal engagement — without losing all of your valuable prep and assessment time. Here are a few of our favorite go-tos:

  • Schedule a town hall with parents to discuss your learning plan. 
  • Create regular discussion meetings, like book club meetings, for self-guided learners to interact with one another and you.
  • Set aside periods of one-to-one availability for students who need more support.

Remember, you can't be all things to all people, and that's ok. Create and keep boundaries within your work day to make sure all your students are receiving enough attention. These boundaries will also help you avoid digital burnout.

We’re in a brave new world. Instead of re-designing your entire curriculum and instruction style to fit into the mold of an app or learning platform, meet your students and families where they are. The more you can make the tools at your disposal work for you and your students, the easier at-home learning will be.

Monica Sherwood is a UX designer and researcher dedicated to edTech. Prior to entering the UX field, Monica was a special educator in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where she saw firsthand the importance of inclusion and accessibility in design. Monica obtained her undergraduate degree at NYU's School of Individualized Study, and her Masters in Special Education at Hunter College. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, painting, and writing.

 

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Published by: Monica Sherwood in Uncategorized