Parent engagement has been shown to have a number of positive impacts linked to student engagement and success. While the body of evidence concerning parental engagement is pre-COVID, I see no reasons why the general principles should not be valid during virtual learning. In fact, I would argue that it is even more important than before, given students are spending their entire learning time at home.
Now that we've established that parent engagement is important, how do we achieve it?
Make sure you are regularly calling or emailing about successes and shortfalls but do it gently (see below). If you use Google or Microsoft, it is a massively missed opportunity if you are not using the guardian system. This creates weekly summaries of any work on Google Classroom/Teams and sends them to registered parents.
The first five tips in this document by Education Week are a fantastic starting point:
Ask parents what they need.
Invite ongoing feedback from parents.
Keep the learning curve for parents manageable.
Turn off unnecessary email notifications.
Develop resources for parents to use if they need help.
Furthermore, parent engagement with their child's learning isn’t so much about delivering content or teaching skills, as it is boosting confidence and creating an environment that is conducive to learning. Therefore, I believe that resources for parents about growth mindset and resilience are just as valuable as subject-specific resources. Plus, don't forget parent confidence. Their worries about subject knowledge and teaching ability may need to be placated! The simple message to them that the phrase 'I don’t know - how do we find out?' is perfectly acceptable, will be a welcome one as far as parents are concerned.
Finally, nothing positive comes from defensive parents convinced that you are being overly critical of their child, or of their parenting. Remember times are tough for everyone! There may come a time when you can be firmer about a student's attendance, or participation in lessons, or work completion, but start more softly. The following phrases serve as a starting point for considering how you wish to engage with parents during virtual learning, and how your school as a whole is going about it:
I have noticed that XXX has not completed his work and was wondering how we might work together to help him/her.
I am disappointed that XXX has not completed his work.
You and/or XXX might find the following resources useful...
The instructions for the task are clearly stated on the document...
Would you like to join me [and others if necessary] on a video call to discuss how best to support XXX?
We require you to attend a call to discuss XXX's lack of progress.