The more I read and reflect on the impact the pandemic will have on education I am certain that the lynchpin of successful distance learning required authentic and consistent family participation. This, or course, is true in any learning environment, but for distance learning family engagement took on new importance.
I teach in a 100% online independent student high school. In some ways our program is designed around distance learning. Without question, family participation is the biggest factor in student success. I believe this to be true because students are still developing the executive functions that will allow them to be successful as independent learners, but without parent support they struggle. Keep in mind that these students and families opted into our program. We have a detailed onboarding process with ample support from teachers and administration. In other words, our students knew what they were getting into and even so, without family support, they struggle.
In what now feels like one day, the world was forced to distance learning in March of 2020. No one opted in and no one, schools or families, were ready. Some families had the means to make the transition smoother which is why gaps between SED and wealthier students have widened during the pandemic. But without the active engagement of families and the daily support of parents the transition to remote learning was nearly impossible for some students, evidenced by the drop in attendance rates, participation, and grades over the past year.
If you are a parent you experienced this. Overnight our living spaces had to become classrooms. This could not be ignored if our children were to be successful during distance learning because the learning environment matters. Students who received a device and a hotspot, but lacked family support to set up their learning space, were destined to struggle from the start. For younger students it was nearly impossible to engage in their classes without the support of families. For some older students, those left in charge of their younger siblings because their parents had to work, struggled to keep up with their own coursework because they had to support their younger siblings.
I am convinced that family engagement was the most important factor in students' success during distance learning. As we transition to in-person instruction it is critical that schools reflect on factors that influenced student’s ability to succeed during distance learning. Getting a pulse on students’ experience during the pandemic can equip schools to more accurately intervene this summer and in the fall. Factors such as attendance, student participation, and teacher effectiveness, as well as family engagement will help schools gauge the severity of learning loss students have experienced.
The Traveling Principal, Joe Clausi, and I have designed The Pulse, a 10-question survey for schools to use to get a clearer picture of students’ readiness to transition to in-person schooling based on their experience during the pandemic. This survey is completely free and can be shared with teachers and staff, even students and families (although their Pulse is only 5 questions), to get a more accurate assessment. If you are interested in using The Pulse please email me at [email protected] and we will send you the url and password.
Our goal is to aggregate responses and share them back with you on a “readiness scorecard”, complete with resources for intervention, as you plan for in-person schooling.