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Quick Take: Tips for a Successful Virtual School Year with Families

Quick Takes
Clara Hauth, Ph.D. and Catherine Creighton Thompson, Ph.D., Marymount University
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In this Quick Take, Clara Hauth, Ph.D. and Catherine Creighton Thompson, Ph.D. want to get you and your families ready for the new virtual school year. What kind of questions should you be asking your families? How can you support them in this new era of learning? Find out these answers and more.

Resources from this Quick Take:

>> CLARA: Hey Catherine, how are you doing?
>> CATHERINE: Hi Clara, good afternoon, it's great to talk with you and see you again today.
>> CLARA: Exactly. I'm Dr. Clara Hauth and this is my colleague...
>>CATHERINE: Dr. Catherine Creighton Thompson. It's nice to meet with you all today.
>>CLARA: Wnd we're really excited to be here today just to have a conversation about
a very important topic and that is school starting,
and we're getting started and we really really know how concerned everybody is
about making sure that we reach out to families to make
sure that everybody's on the same page as instructions start coming out.
Whether you're coming back to the classroom or having virtual classes
or a combination of the two we know how critically important it is
to make those connections. And Catherine and I have been working
together on some additional, just points, things to maybe take into consideration in the next
weeks as you get ready and prepare for your awesome classrooms,
whether they're in person or online. So we're going to get started talking
about what's really happening this year. And of course COVID comes to the forefront
and whenever a crisis happens, people tend to pull in and pull back
and what we're we're hoping that you're doing as teachers is thinking forward
and being proactive. Because what you do is so critically
important for students and their families, and your behaviors, your communication
make all the difference as the school year starts.
But you already know all of that.
You know how important it is to reach out to families. We all know that time is an issue as well
so getting this planned a little bit ahead before school starts
or even late late summer and just reaching out to your families really can help
everyone start the school year in a great great way.
We know that your families are struggling, some of them don't have
internet access, some of them don't have communicate...ways to communicate.
Some of them are very very worried about what school's going to look like
and how am I going to be not only teaching and helping my
students at home, my children at home, but how am I going to actively
coordinate not only with teachers but all the support people
that are involved in education, our counselors and our OTs and our PTs.
So getting started, Catherine and I have a few
you know, quick quick points to get the
year started, we know that you all will do an outstanding job. Catherine?
>> CATHERINE: So collaboration with parents and caretakers. Now we're going to use
the word, the term "parents" to mean caretakers, anyone who's
responsible for taking care of students.
It is key. We need to collaborate with parents
Why? Think back to the spring. Distractions are plentiful.
I remember going upstairs up to see my son who was working on Algebra II
and I saw him watching Netflix. Well the lure of Dwight from The Office
or Monica and Phoebe from Friends is far more interesting than
Algebra II. So we have quite a big game to play and collaboration
with our parents and caretakers is key. Briefly to tell you about the research,
the Michigan Virtual Schools Research Institute has a lot of information about online learning.
For decades we've had online learning and in fact the Department of Education
even funds the University of Kansas Center for Online Learning.
In all the research, they showed that students under age 18 struggle
with executive functioning skills. And those executive functioning skills are necessary
to participate fully in virtual learning. Because of that, virtual online schools
which typically have asynchronous instruction and teachers that facilitate learning
require parents or a learning coach to work with students to work on their
executive functioning skills. So knowing that, that's what it takes to
be successful in a virtual environment. Not all of us in our public schools are
going to be lucky enough to have a learning coach.
It will be important though to collaborate with our parents.
So we're going to take a look first at that, at that
pre-instruction survey. Dr. Hauth, Clara, mentioned earlier about
the conditions our parents are in.
>> CLARA: Right.
>> CATHERINE: I mean, Clara, think about some of
the families that we've talked with. I had a student of mine who was not able
to fully participate in learning because she needed to needed to watch
her children or her, her siblings while her mother was was working.
We had other students that were not able to work because they had to go work
construction jobs to bring home food for the parents.
I work with two families that were so economically impacted that they became homeless.
These are realities for our fam, our families
and we do have a lot of services that can help them.
I'm going to jump over really quickly to a survey that Clara and I created.
And I hope you guys can see this okay. I'm going to go through this
and basically it's a parent and guardian information sheet.
So we recommend that you would try and
find out information about your parents before school starts.
>> CLARA: Absolutely.
>> CATHERINE: Right? And then once you have this information,
we'll just highlight some stuff on this.
First is what's your preferred communication method.
We have some parents that never check their email, I have a lot of parents like that,
and some that only check text. Well it's important to find that out.
Who would you like to have the contact, regular contact be?
Especially with some of my English language learner parents,
I've actually had fellow older siblings be the primary contact because they
could speak English. So that is up to the family.
But not only will you maybe have a parent, but you might have
an older sibling that can translate for that parent.
What is the best time to reach you? I've worked with parents that work night
shifts and sleep during the day. Well knowing those times
and best synchronizing those with our times is important.
Then finding out does your family have internet access? Critically important.
If they don't you can refer them to obviously your social worker,
the school counselors. And believe it or not there are several resources
available for free Wi-Fi service.
And does your child have a place at home to complete their school work?
This is really important and we need to partner with parents to make sure that
students' work spaces are distraction free and as
organized as possible. So is your child's workspace distraction free.
We also do know, moving to the next item on this,
is your child's workspace, if it's not distraction free, like many
of our low-income families that don't have the spaces, what would help your
child's workspace be to distraction free? My school was handing out ear
headphones to like muffle out noise and sound, and we collaborated really closely
with families. It'd be great to know that information before we get into this.
And then next, how comfortable are you in helping your
child stay organized and monitor their assignments. We need to assess,
can we really rely on that parent to be a key
ally in organizing and some of those executive functioning skills
that our students will struggle with. And then next, what would help your child
stay organized and monitor their assignments.
And then, then some other questions just
trying to see how the child responded to school closing, how their families are
doing, and any other concerns. And these are
important considerations for families to know,
again so that we can refer our parents to appropriate resources
within the school and the community.
>> CLARA: Absolutely, Catherine.
Such an incredibly important thing before school starts
that we're really communicating with families and we're getting to know our families
because if we know that something's happening or that again, that
those last pieces of social emotional um and
pieces that are so critically important right now where
we always focus on those academics, but if we are not aware
of the social impact of the changes happening in schools, let alone
changes when school's on a quote unquote normal schedule,
and now we've added all of this additional uncertainty. We know that
children with disabilities often struggle with not, with change,
right? It's difficult. So getting that information up front is
going to be so, so important. And as we move forward
we also want to talk about what does communication look like?
How am I going to communicate with my families?
And then really getting them up and running with
what instruction is going to look like, so whether you're
sharing the LMS, the the type of structure that your,
your learning management system, what it looks like, where you're also sharing.
and I think, Catherine, that we've got more info on the next page, if you
I mean the next slide, sorry, it's not really paper!
>> CATHERINE: Clara, I'm really glad you said that. There are a lot of
things that we can do to enhance our communication before we even start classes.
>> CLARA: Exactly, exactly.
I love this form that you've come up with and I know you're going to pull it
up for everybody. And this is another one to, you know be able to emulate or
share as, as teachers. And that is where,
what type of, what is instruction going to look like? What hours are you teaching?
You want to give information about the teacher too, right, Catherine?
I mean you want to introduce yourself and get to know your families a little bit
more, build that rapport with your families. I already mentioned
the learning management system and we're going to talk a little bit
more about apps in a little bit, are we not, Catherine?
>> CATHERINE: Yeah we are. I mean definitely you want to show the learning management
system. I mean i know a lot of you guys that
were teaching um in the spring saw that there were
parents involved. I actually had parents on every single,
engaged in every single one of my lessons so
they wanted to know how can they help use the
learning management system? So we have some guided questions.
What is it?
Where is it located, and how do parents and students sign in?
How do you use it? So what I was going to do is create a
video of how, what my expectations were for that.
And then not only that, an introduction
to the technologies and apps you plan to communicate with parents.
So what are some of those technologies? And that that should be part of the
pre-planning that you're looking at. And like Clara mentioned we're going to go
over some really cool apps that can enhance your communication efforts.
Now it's really important to always check
with your school district to see if there are certain approved technologies.
So what we go over today you want to, you want to run through those.
And also not only your school district but some of the technologies also
require parental permission. So if you're interested in any of these
and you've got approval from your district, do you need parental permission.
Well that kind of stuff needs to happen before class begins.
And then assistive technology cannot be underscored.
Many of our students with disabilities struggle with especially asynchronous instruction
because a lot of, they have to do a lot of reading and
that can be very difficult because the reading is above their grade level.
So assistive technology is such an awesome way to level the playing field for our students.
What are the assistive technologies that your students can use
that will enhance their ability to participate?
That's on the receptive side. On the expressive side, knowing
what your students can use to communicate in say class discussions?
The chat board in your discussion board spaces--if
students can't spell they're going to be less likely to
participate because they're embarrassed, that's what actually research shows in
asynchronous classes right now. So we want to give them those
technologies. Then just moving through here.
The student workspace. Is it free of distractions? Explaining to parents it
needs to be distraction free, potentially taking cell phones away
just like we do in class. There's many many distractions.
Do kids have TVs in the rooms or video games in their rooms? Well we're
not going to be able to compete with that. So that needs to be out of there.
And then student organization. How can we get parents help?
Number one thing for any of you guys that taught synchronous classes
in the spring: Where do their students store their links?
I can't tell you how many times I would send out links every single week.
So having a place for students to store those links is very helpful.
Coming up with that organization system.
How will students organize assignments and then to-do lists? Do they have
printable calendar, virtual planner or Microsoft Outlook, whatever they use to
organize themselves. It's important to enlist a
parent and you can tell from your pre-survey that if parents don't feel
comfortable doing that, maybe you can collaborate with your paraprofessional
to work with some of the executive functioning skills with those students
that you identified from your your pre-survey.
And then how do you plan to communicate with them?
Well some parents that don't speak English there's going to be need
to be a plan for that as well. And going over your syllabus,
your class expectations for attendance, behaviors, positive behavior intervention supports.
Whether you expect your students to turn on their cameras or not.
Those kinds of uh nuts and bolts of your class need to be articulated.
And then at the bottom here, I just have explaining the
the importance to parents and students of being a self-regulated learner and
knowing that you're going to need to embed those strategies
in every single class lesson.
So, that's that. We're gonna go back to our, um, instruction.
So ongoing communication. Clara and I have talked about the
importance of ongoing communication so not only from, we'll review real quick:
We have a pre-instruction survey, we're finding out information about
families and then afterwards, before we even start instruction,
we're teaching them about the learning management system,
getting approval to use technologies that will enhance our communication,
and now we're going to take a few minutes and we're going to look at ways to,
the technologies that can enhance the, the communication,
the ongoing communication. First one I'll go over is Talking Points.
Talking Points is so cool. I'll be honest, I have not used it yet,
I recently learned about it and I'm excited to try it.
It is a free app that allows you to communicate with parents
that don't speak other languages. It actually provides translation services
in up to 100 languages, which is so cool! And you can use it via the web or
an app and that is called the Talking Points app.
The next one is Class Dojo. My own son's teacher when he was in
elementary school used Class Dojo. I'm actually planning on using it with my
high school students too. It's a communication app where you can
post pictures and stuff like that, some of you guys might already use it,
but it provides daily updates and reports on both academic
and behavior to parents. So you could, you can actually put in there
"Hey, how much is Johnny completing Johnny's work?"
Or, "Gosh, Johnny did something great and earned this," you can
almost embed a token economy in a PBIS in Class Dojo.
Let's see, again make sure you get approval before you use these apps
and I know apps like Class Dojo require parental permission.
So Clara, do you want to talk about the other ones, some other ones?
>> CLARA: Sure. That ongoing communication, again
that critical piece of making sure parents know what's
happening and when and where. Remind was one of my favorite ones to
use in the classroom and also with my university students,
because it's kind of a one-way. So basically I can get information out
to parents to say "the internet's down," or it's a quick text to families.
Again, you get permission, it's not your phone number,
it's a, it's an anonymous phone number which makes it,
separates that privacy piece, so that you've got that as well,
because if you're virtually working from home that, that can impact it as well.
So Remind is a fabulous tool
for quick updates and information. If something goes out
in the learning management system, if something's not there,
or if you say "hey everybody bring your favorite something into the class screen today,"
or you forgot to share about a particular quiz, or if you know
that in two days everyone's going to have a spelling quiz, then you can just
let parents know very quickly and they don't have to be checking on the LMS
and they they get that information.
Say Hi is also similar. It's a very short conversation this can be translated.
It's a text, so it can be translated, which is really a good solution
with our families, with our ELL families.
And then Bloomz is another one.
I personally have not used that, this was shared to,
with Catherine and I, with some of our students who are also student teachers
in teaching. And so again make sure you get any of
these approved before you use them and I'm sure you
you might already have lists of your own, but making sure that families know,
and I'll go back to some of that. So families know what type of
communication that you'll be using. And that should be part of your
introduction to the families and the information that you're sharing
with them up front. That way they know what's happening, when it's happening and
how it's going to come across when you are starting your instruction.
Office hours. That critical piece, right, Catherine? I think one of the things that
happens sometimes as we, we're working and I know you're working 24/7.
I'm speaking to all you teachers out there, you're working all the time.
You are thinking of new lesson ideas, you wake up in the middle of the night
and jot things down, and I know that you do because my students tell me that,
and I was a teacher for a very long time and I did the same thing.
So we want to be available to families but we cannot be available 24 7.
As much as we want to respond, we need to set some parameters.
And that should also be explained to families. These, this hour every Thursday or Tuesday is
when I'm going to host open office hours and then you can sign up with a schedule
or parents know that that particular time or day is a time to bring up information.
If you want personal conferences, that's another time to
just schedule that separately, because of course that's a private issue
and you want to be able to do that.
The other thing you're going to be starting to set up and I'll mention this
because we know that IEPs start right away in the school year,
is that communication with families about getting those meetings set up,
what times are good for them as well. So if you if you have open
communications and everybody's expectations are discussed,
your communication and your ongoing communication with families,
that teamwork is going to be incredible. You're going to build such rapport with
your families. And I think that's one of the things Catherine and I are really,
really passionate about, is making sure that it's this team
and, and that it's cohesive and that really everyone is there to make sure that
children are learning and growing academically and socially and emotionally.
Catherine, did I forget something?
>> CATHERINE: No, I think that's great,
thank you so much! I mean, we're grateful you all
worked with us today, we know this is challenging,
but we do feel like this is a way we can potentially revolutionize
education with virtual learning.
At least we won't have any snow days, right guys?
>> CLARA: I'm, Catherine, I'm excited for the school year to start.
I know there's a lot of uncertainty
but I think using some of these tips with families is really going to make
the school year start off on a on a really big high note.
>> CLARA: So I want to thank, thank you all for your work and starting the school year
off on an excellent positive note with your families as teams.
And I also want to say thank you to Catherine as a colleague and all the work that
that you're doing to support not only students and families but also teachers.
>> CATHERINE: Aw, thank you! Thanks!

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