School and district leaders are in a bit of a no-win situation when making the contentious school reopening decision. Possip’s partners are sending reopening pulse checks to ask families about their comfort and what model they prefer in the fall (hybrid, in-person, or remote learning). Many parents are split into almost equal thirds. This means that for leaders there may not be a decision that, at first look, could make even half of the parents satisfied. That data makes it even more apparent that each family situation is incredibly different, and each individual has their own beliefs on what is safe and what is not.
Although the decision on how to reopen schools is bound to create a mix of feelings from the community, there are three actions we have seen that can make the decision more digestible for families. Most families appreciate the challenging task ahead of decision-makers. These three tips can create a reopening plan that parents can support.
1. Clarity with a Simple, Straightforward Plan for Reopening
Parents have been overextended and overwhelmed since at least March. Many families have had to either push through working while parenting and teaching, or one parent may have had to quit their job or decrease their hours to manage it all. Even if one parent was a full-time stay-at-home mom/dad, being quarantined in the house without normal social interactions, not having kids leave for school, learning how to be a teacher overnight, all with the fear of your family getting sick, is a lot to handle.
Parents don’t have time, bandwidth, or desire to navigate a complex plan – at least not initially. While they eventually want confidence that the district is thinking through everything, initially they just need to know what they should be preparing for. Parents want clarity and simplicity during this time of uncertainty. A clear plan builds trust and allows families to easily understand exactly what their child will be experiencing in the fall.
2. High-Quality Distance Learning Program
Last spring, many parents experienced their child having low quality or non-existent distance learning programs. The fear of that happening again is top of mind for families. Even if schools are reopening fully, distance learning may return at some point given an increase in cases. Districts should start thinking about, creating, and communicating to parents their plan for a high-quality distance learning program. If the initial plan is to do full virtual learning to start the year, parents want clear and digestible logistics.
One of the first logistical aspects is a student schedule so parents can be clear on what the day will look like. When creating a schedule, we found that using student-friendly language is effective to clearly communicate with parents. This also puts the responsibility on students to become more self-guided. One example of how this could look for your school is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Apaf4xm9tp39SwFZv8RlhDdq08VssF-_WRWXsZuAQ-M/mobilebasic
Flexibility in Distance Learning
One additional trend we saw in parent comments through the Possip pulse checks was the need for a bit of flexibility in the learning program. Many parents asked for extended student work deadlines into the evening so they could help their child after work and answer any lingering questions they had before submitting the assignment. Having a high-quality online plan that is student-centered, engaging, and clear, while also giving some flexibility and trust to families are keys to a successful roll-out of a distance learning program.
3. Community Partnerships As Options for Families
If remote learning or a hybrid model is in the plan, one of the top trends we noticed was the feeling that it would be impossible for working parents. Districts can get ahead of this concern by partnering with local organizations that are offering some kind of childcare or have the ability to support students and schools during this time. Partnering with a local YMCA, church, daycare, or community organization to have an option for students of essential workers will be extremely helpful for families. This will take some creativity and effort as a community, but we have seen it be successful in some districts.
If you’re interested in Possip pulse checks for your school, email email@example.com. Also, check out our blog on how to message difficult decisions: https://possip.com/principal-corner-messaging-during-difficult-decisions/