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Taking time to understand and address apprehensions related to virtual learning can assuage family concerns, ultimately increasing engagement with the district and virtual education. This increased family engagement in turn can elevate academic outcomes, reduce disciplinary issues, and improve parent-teacher and teacher-student relationships.
To improve engagement this fall, districts should create Family Virtual Learning Profiles, which will improve the effectiveness of remote instruction by better aligning virtual learning activities and communications with the needs of individual households.
To collect information necessary to create effective Family Virtual Learning Profiles, districts can distribute family surveys, which should include questions in these five crucial areas.
What data should I capture and include in a Family Virtual Learning Profile?
1. Device, internet, and other access issues
Districts should regularly ask questions concerning student ability to access virtual learning. For example, a student might have device access, but needs to share that device with two siblings, making actual access limited. Here are a few data points worth collecting from families that will allow for a deeper understanding of access issues across the district:
- The number of family members that students share device(s) with
- The strength and reliability of internet access in the home
- Access to other learning materials (e.g., printer, basic school supplies)
2. Learning ability and preparedness
Many students, especially PK-3 students, and those with learning or other disabilities, struggle to learn independently. Additionally, many parents lack confidence in their ability to navigate new technological platforms or understand their student’s homework and provide support. These access barriers are less tangible than device and internet access issues, but are equally as prohibitive to student learning at home. Here are some data points that can be used to identify families needing additional supports:
- Student ability to engage in independent learning
- Instructional facilitator confidence in ability to assist with instruction
- Whether the at-home instructional facilitator has received LMS training
3. Communications preferences
In conversations with district leaders, many note that last spring parents often felt over-or-underwhelmed by district, school, and teacher communications, both in frequency and channels used. In a nationwide survey conducted in May, 80% of parents report that text messaging is an effective mode of contact for teachers to use, but only 28% report that teachers used text messaging to contact them. Districts must do a better job aligning communications channel and frequency with parent preferences to keep parents engaged with the virtual learning process. Leadership should consider collecting the following information about parent communications preferences at the outset of this school year:
- Parent preferred communication method with their student’s teacher
- Hours that parents prefer to be contacted about school related matters
- Whether a parent is employed and working in-person, or remotely
- The number of hours per week each parent is working on average
4. Household demographics
Now that the classroom and the home have merged for many students, teachers should understand the home environment of each student to better tailor instruction and other supports to individual families. Here are some example data points to help districts understand their students’ situations:
- The total number of students in the household
- The name and contact information of the primary at-home instructional facilitator
- Other household circumstances (e.g., shared custody, family illness)
5. Questions, concerns, and crowdsourcing
Other questions districts may want to ask families include:
- What are your main concerns related to virtual learning (e.g., food security, at-home learning environment, device access)?
- Are there any aspects of the district’s virtual learning plan you would like to learn more about?
- Are you interested in helping to support virtual instruction for other students?
Collecting information across these five key areas will help districts improve the effectiveness of remote instruction by providing the insight needed to better align virtual learning activities and communications with the needs of their students and families.
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