Recommended Actions for Elementary Schools and Districts.
Strong partnerships with parents and adult family members have always been critical for learning. Family engagement is even more essential when school is being offered at a distance since educators are depending upon families to ensure their children can use a device and the internet to participate in a class or have a quiet place at home to complete an assignment. Below are actions that schools and districts can take to ensure families have what they need to support their children.
Make Contacting the School Easy!
Families need to be able to easily reach someone at the school who can answer their questions about how the school will operate and find out how they can talk to their children’s teachers. Schools should make sure someone is available to answer phone calls and emails promptly. Schools should also make it easy for families to talk to someone in their home language.
Quick check: Go to any school’s website. How long does it take you to find the number to call or who to email with questions. If it’s more than two clicks, consider updating the website.
Identify a team to take responsibility for supporting the transition to school
This can be an existing, new, or reconfigured team. Team membership should be cross-functional and represent all segments of your school community – including school staff and parent leadership, early childhood providers, health providers, community partners – and reflect your school’s demographics. Ensure the team includes teachers with expertise in special education services, English Language Learners, and general education. The team should be responsible for developing and implementing a plan that ensures families, especially those with students who lost out on learning time last spring, get the support they need to engage in learning this Fall. The team is also responsible for sharing this plan and enlisting support for implementation among all school staff.
Quick check: Does such a team exist? If so, how often does it meet? Conduct Welcome Calls Don’t wait for families to call you. Encourage your staff to make sure every family gets a welcome call. For more information about how to carry out such calls, check out Flamboyan Foundation’s new Beginning of the Year Relationship Building: A Strategy Guide for Educators.
Quick check: Does your school or district have a plan for personally welcoming families back to school?
Use Data To Identify Families In Need of Additional Outreach
Schools can use their data to identify which families would benefit from additional outreach and engagement. Schools can prioritize outreach to families with children who are entering the school for the first time (i.e preschoolers, kindergartners or transfer students), students who were chronically absent prior school closure, families with whom the school had little or no contact during the Spring and as well as families of students involved in special education, experiencing homelessness or involved in foster care. Use data from the Spring to construct initial lists and then revise those lists based upon which students are absent during the first weeks of school For more information, see the Attendance Works data framework and strategies for reaching out to families.
Quick check: Have you identified which populations of students/families need extra support?
Conduct health, wellness, and connectivity assessments
During the first few weeks of school, reach out to families by phone or through a physically distanced home visit to find out about the families physical, social, and mental well-being, determine needs for computer equipment, software, and internet access and offer access to needed supports. The result of these assessments should be documented for each family and also used to inform the school and district about what types of support will be needed to ensure an opportunity to learn. You can download examples of surveys from Panorama.
Quick check: Do you know how many families still need devices and internet access in order to participate in learning?
Develop and put in place tiered supports for re-engaging students
California state law now mandates that schools and districts put in place a tiered approach for supporting students who are absent from distance learning. For more information about what types of supports might be included in a tiered support system, see this Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absence in the COVID 19 Era.
Quick check: Has your district offered a set of tiered supports that work for distance-learning?
Identify and enlist support from community partners
Partner with community members and organizations that can provide resources to address basic needs, offer enrichment, and provide support to overcome barriers to learning and attendance. Get in contact with the afterschool or expanded learning providers operating prior to the school closures and find out how much support they can offer this year. Funding for afterschool is still available and has been made much more flexible. You can also enlist the support of a wide range of other organizations ranging from food banks to civic organizations to public housing agencies.
Quick Check: Have you mapped out the community partners who currently or potentially could be working with your school(s)?
Build Staff Capacity to Partner with Families
Make sure your staff receives professional development to develop the skills for positively engaging families. Use role-playing to staff practice interacting with families in a manner that is supportive, easy to understand, and trauma-informed. Make sure staff are familiar with the resources and tiered supports available to help students and families in your school. Consider encouraging your staff to watch the second module (building a culture of attendance) of Attendance Work’s free Teaching Attendance Curriculum found here: https://www.attendanceworks.org/resources/teaching-attendance-curriculum
Quick Check: Is there a professional development session on family engagement scheduled?
Create and implement a communication plan that keeps families informed
Develop a communication calendar for the year that outlines the key information that needs to be conveyed to families and when it needs to be shared so families can support learning. Communicate clearly, briefly and in the most accessible way. Draw upon content offered on this website. For more communication strategies, listen to Todd Rogers (and Attendance Works!) discuss communications with families on this April 21 webinar, Using the Science of Behavior Change to Help Families Help Kids.
Quick Check: Find the most recent communication sent by your school or district to families? Is it easy to understand? Is it available in the languages spoken by your families?