Over the past 20 months, parents have had to fill multiple roles as teachers, technical experts and caretakers, often while dealing with the stress of job loss or balancing full-time jobs. There is no question that parent burnout has been strong during this time, with many parents experiencing poorer physical and mental health compared with before the pandemic.
However, there is a bright spot that has come out of this period that we cannot afford to ignore. While parents are rightfully concerned about missed learning opportunities from remote schooling, they are also more in tune than ever with their child’s education. In many ways, this period has closed gaps in parent engagement through increased virtual communication channels and digital delivery of instructional materials.
As a father of two and a former educator, school leader and school board member I have seen firsthand the importance of regular communication between educators and families and how that interaction has evolved. Gone are the days of waiting until parent-teacher conferences for updates about how one’s child is doing. Some schools now use apps to check in with parents and provide announcements and reminders about assignments and activities. At a time when people have felt more socially disconnected than ever, leveraging the benefits of technology to improve communication has only become more critical.
The evidence to support this case is compelling. A study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Understanding America Study found that a large majority of parents (80 percent) prefer to attend parent-teacher conferences remotely. They also want students to communicate with their teachers using digital options (75 percent). Educators agree, as over half of teachers (52 percent) report that virtual meetings have made it easier to connect with parents and administrators. In addition, parents are interested in using online platforms to organize and distribute instructional materials.
While we still have a long way to go to ensure that all students have the digital skills to succeed in a changing economy, remote schooling has encouraged some gains in technological availability and digital literacy. According to one educator survey, 54 percent of educators reported that access and knowledge of technology among students improved during the pandemic.
Recognizing this silver lining, we also have to acknowledge that these digital systems are far from perfect, even after more than a year of continuous classroom use. Recently at The Hunt Institute, we conducted small focus groups of parents across the country who have experienced some of these shortcomings. We heard firsthand from fellow parents that they are struggling to navigate through multiple digital platforms — sometimes over four different programs between their children who attend the same school. From these conversations, we found that the very programs made to streamline the delivery of materials and instruction ended up overloading parents.
Parent voices are powerful, and it is imperative that we continue to listen to their experiences to drive how we shape our education system. As schools continue to navigate fully reopening, schools and districts should work to improve and leverage the technology that we have developed during this time of triage and transition to streamline parent engagement channels. The following strategies offer checkpoints for school communication efforts:
- Improve information access and maintain a reliable digital presence. Schools should ensure that parents and teachers have access to user-friendly information portals or other data systems and can fully understand and interpret them. Coming out of the pandemic, schools should continue to offer long-term flexibility for families by maintaining digital options for parents.
- Encourage and norm regular parent-teacher communication. Schools and districts can support by using more convenient communication methods, like email, texting, apps or other software, to notify parents of important information.
- Support digital efficiency and be mindful of parent and teacher capacity. Consolidating and standardizing digital platforms for parents, teachers and students can help maintain consistency, minimize confusion, and improve access for users.
As a parent that has dedicated my career to advancing education policy, it is especially important to me that we listen to what parents want for their children and adapt our systems appropriately. That is why the Hunt Institute is working with former West Virginia Governor and Congressman Bob Wise on the COVID Constituency initiative to dive into parent priorities and translate them into actionable policies for local and state education leaders.
If we learn nothing from this trying time, we will have lost the battle to a faceless disease. We need to be willing to demand and enact bold changes in education to come out of this period stronger than before, and I am hopeful that America has the willpower to take that initiative.
Javaid Siddiqi is president and CEO of The Hunt Institute.