Family Engagement: Reset and Restart

Audience and Purpose

The information on this webpage is provided with school and district leaders in mind as they plan for the best ways to engage families in the reset and restart of education for the 2020-2021 school year. Family engagement is a key strategy to enhancing student engagement and achievement, especially when learning remotely. By ensuring families are receiving consistent communication, necessary supports for at-home learning and connections to key community partners, schools and districts can best support families’ unique needs during the reopening of schools.

This guide identifies three areas of family engagement that are critical to student success:
  1. Communication;
  2. Supporting learning at home; and
  3. Engaging strategic community partners.
Included in these three areas are specific family engagement resources and strategies, as well as best practices already happening in Ohio’s schools and districts.


Family Engagement for Restart and Reopen

Remote learning during the coronavirus-related (COVID-19) ordered school-building closure last spring created new opportunities for families to increase participation in their students’ education. In many cases, teacher-family partnerships became stronger because of more frequent engagement between teachers and parents, guardians and caregivers. As districts and schools move into the 2020-2021 school year, schools and districts should consider ways to sustain this and leverage it for the benefit of students.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic did not create the equity gaps that exist in education, it is continuing to reveal and exacerbate the already existing social and educational inequities. Further, this global crisis highlights the need for leaders to develop and strengthen connections between education and other social systems, including health care, housing and workforce development.

All families want to support their children’s learning, but not all families may have the same resources or opportunities to be involved in remote learning in a consistent manner. Families and students will enter the new school year with different needs. Some parents and guardians may want to keep their students out of school because of concerns for illness or because of a student’s or other family member’s pre-existing health conditions. Some families are returning to work, while some are continuing to work from home. These circumstances will impact a student’s ability to learn at home.

Schools, districts, teachers, families and community partners should build strong partnerships with the common goal of supporting all students. Through targeted family engagement strategies, teachers, school staff and leaders can ensure each child and every family have the resources necessary for equitable participation in educational services.
 
 

Communication

Effective communication with families and the community at large will be essential to a successful reopening experience. Each school and district should plan how all health, safety and logistical practices will be clearly communicated to students, families and community partners.
Schools and districts should communicate with families and guardians regularly to keep them informed about reopening-related activities. Student expectations and routines while in the school building should be shared with parents and caregivers. Communications with families should include expectations around student health and safety guidelines and updated procedures regarding parent visits, pickup, drop off, signing students out of school early and other specific aspects of the daily educational experience.
Schools, districts and teachers also should use targeted communication to reach students and families who may require additional support and outreach during restart and reopening. Best practices for effective communication with families include:
  • Two-way communication. The sender and receiver are equals in two-way communication. Both engage in active listening, sharing their thoughts and questions. Families can more actively participate when educators use two-way communication. A few examples of two-way communication include parent-teacher conferences, phone calls, virtual meetings and committee meetings.
  • Multiple methods of communication. School and district leaders may benefit from taking inventory of the ways staff are communicating with families, whether through social media, all-calls, email, apps, newsletters or other formats. Leaders and educators can identify the communication mechanisms that work best to reach vulnerable youth and their families and/or students with limited access to internet connectivity. Schools and districts should consider surveying families about their preferences of communication mode and align outreach activities to the data received. Teachers and staff should be encouraged to communicate with individual students and families in ways that are most effective for each. If a family is confronting a barrier to a certain communication method, work with that family to find an alternative.
  • Keep communication consistent. Effective communication is consistent, ongoing and intentional. Regular check-ins between educators and families or administrators and families build trust and makes necessary conversations more comfortable. As schools reopen, it will be important for families to know how and when they can reach the school and their children’s teachers, as well as when the school will be regularly communicating important information back to them. For example, a school can notify families to expect weekly emails from the school or, during remote learning days, daily check-ins with a teacher. Schools and districts also can help teachers to communicate clearly with families about how they can best be reached and during what times of day are appropriate to do so.
  • Encourage teachers and staff. For students and families who may be hard to reach during reset and restart, relationships are key. They build trust between schools and families and lead to more effective communication over time. Teachers, school staff, coaches and mentors can play a vital role in reaching out to families and knowing how to best stay in touch as they are the individuals who students see most often.
 

Best Practice Example from Ohio’s Schools

Barnesville Exempted Village School District
Barnesville Exempted Village School District, Barnesville

Barnesville Exempted Village School District is a rural district located in Belmont County.

Barnesville Schools plan to conduct parent trainings during the first week of the 2020-2021 school year. Teachers will meet with the parents of their students individually, similar to parent-teacher conferences. The schedule of these trainings is flexible and accommodating and includes two evening opportunities for parents who work during the day. 

The district also will conduct student diagnostic testing following the week of parent training.

Finally, Barnesville Schools plans to continue providing a “drive-through” option for families, so the schools can distribute 2020-2021 calendars, the remote learning plan, family engagement materials and school supplies. This effort is designed to reach all families, especially those who may not be able to access these materials through a digital platform.
 
North Union Local Schools
North Union Local Schools, Richwood


North Union Local Schools is a rural district located in Union County.

During Ohio’s ordered school-building closure period in March-May of 2020, the district instituted a 48-hour rule for checking-in with students.

At the high school, teachers who have third period classes connected with their third period students twice a week. If a teacher did not hear back from a student within 48 hours and after sending two emails and making one phone call, the teacher had to attempt to get in touch with the parent, either by email or phone call.

If a teacher failed to reach both the student and parent, the teacher completed a Google form with contact information for the student and his or her attempts to call or email the student. The administration team at the school then took the information from the form and attempted to reach families. The administration team created a spreadsheet for tracking the communication outreach attempts. The outreach attempts included a range of interventions from additional phone calls, having a trusted adult (coach, club advisor, other staff member) reach out to the student and family, a mailed letter to the student’s home, and finally, if necessary, a home visit for a wellness check.

In addition, all high school students and parents were surveyed about online learning and mental health. The high school specifically reached out to students and families who said they were really struggling.

At the middle and elementary schools, the same system was in place, except there was much more frequent contact between students and administrative staff. At both the middle and elementary schools, school counselors and principals delivered food to students.
 


 


Supporting Learning at Home

Remote learning will continue to play a role in the education experience of Ohio’s students and will be an important contributor to sustaining educational opportunities. Remote learning should be considered an option for students and staff for the entire school year, as many families will have high-risk health concerns or may not feel comfortable with in-person instruction until a vaccine is available. The Ohio Department of Education has released a Remote Learning Guide for the 2020-2021 school year, which can be found here.

As schools and districts engage families in remote learning, it is important that parents and guardians have a clearly defined role in at-home learning and they understand expectations around how to support their children. Schools should consider how they will ensure students remain active, engaged and participating in remote learning at home. Some considerations for supporting students and families with remote learning include:
  • Using a Unified Platform: When schools adopt one unified platform to implement remote learning, it is easier for families to actively participate in their children’s educational experiences. Moving all remote learning to one platform (for example, Google Classroom) can streamline the technology with which families and students must be familiar in order for successful and timely completion of assignments. It also can make it easier for staff to check in with students and families regarding progress.
  • Monitor Attendance and Work Completion: Follow the school or district’s remote learning plan to identify students who may be having challenges logging on to online remote learning platforms. If attendance or work completion is inconsistent, follow protocol to engage the student and family, and identify specific strategies or a plan to get the student back on track.
  • Needs Survey: Consider surveying families about what their needs are regarding remote learning and use that data to drive decisions about the supports the school and district is providing.
  • Provide Resources: Empower teachers to provide resources to families to support learning at home.
 

Best Practice Example from Ohio’s Schools

Black River Local School District
Black River Local School District, Sullivan


Black River Local Schools is a rural school district located in Medina County.

This district created a reservation system for families who needed internet access to reserve tables inside tents in the school’s parking lot. Each area was sanitized after each family left. Chromebooks and iPads were distributed to all students who needed them. Finally, teachers relayed information to the principal regarding students who were having challenges submitting work and the principal reached out to the students or their families to check in.
 

 


Engaging with Community Partners

Partnerships is a core principle of Each Child, Our Future, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education, and is critical in moving forward in the 2020-2021 school year. Everyone, not just those in schools, shares the responsibility for preparing children for successful futures.

A collaborative effort of both education and community organizations is needed to ensure the effective delivery of appropriate instruction, while meeting the needs of the whole child, for each student.

Partners can include after-school child care and program providers, libraries, faith-based organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs, scouting organizations, philanthropies, chambers of commerce and business groups, health providers, social service organizations, local governmental agencies and many more. Connecting families with community partners can provide additional support and outreach. Particularly when planning for remote learning or a hybrid in-person schedule, collaborating with child care programming within the school or community will be critical in supporting families as they go to work and look for safe places for their children.  
  • Consider the ways the school or district can connect families with local organizations that support housing, food, internet connectivity, child care and other necessities.
  • Create a space on the district website or social media platforms for families to read about the community partners in the area and how they can be connected to services.
  • Use the community supports that may be accessible within the school setting. Some examples include partnerships with mental and behavioral health care providers and vulnerable youth school district liaisons.
 

Best Practice Examples from Ohio Schools and Community Partners

Akron City Schools
Akron Public Schools, Akron


Akron Public Schools is a large urban district located in Summit County.

Akron Public Schools created a space on the district’s webpage titled “Family and Community.” Community-specific resources were published, including links to internet connectivity providers, food and shelter resources, and supports for social, emotional and physical health.
 

Columbus City Schools
Columbus City Schools, Columbus

Columbus City Schools is a large urban district located in Franklin County.

In March 2020, shortly after Ohio’s ordered school-building closure, Columbus City Schools created an online Family Needs Survey to better understand and connect families with needed supports. The district received more than 4,000 submissions and used the data to drive decision-making and outreach at the district level. A Family Resources Repository was created on the district website to connect families with housing, food, internet and mental and behavioral health care supports. Columbus City Schools also shared survey results with community partners to ensure the resources could be used to support families. The full story can be found here.
 

 


Conclusion

Family engagement will be a key strategy to supporting all students and families and especially important for sustaining relationships and providing resources to vulnerable youth. By planning for how to communicate with families, help them connect with additional community resources, and support learning at home, schools and districts can work to reach all students. Below are additional resources to find effective, high-quality family engagement tools.


Additional Resources

Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center at The Ohio State University
Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities 
Teaching Tolerance – Family Engagement Resources
Edutopia – Family Engagement Toolkit 

Last Modified: 8/5/2020 11:32:42 AM