The closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic has created an uncertain future in many ways. Although most students are not in a school building, we believe it is still essential for educators to keep up relationships with students and families who may be experiencing stress related to covid-19. Principals and other administrators can play a key role in organizing and leading this outreach.
Research shows that caring support can buffer the negative effects of adversity and stress students and families might experience. As our September 2019 brief, Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning explains, a sense of belonging and connection is an important factor of academic engagement.
To maintain relationships, schools can stay in touch with families using their regular methods, whether it be making phone calls home, sending text messages or emails, or posting letters on school websites. Many parents and students use social media, so consider posting information to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Make the connection positive and let individuals know that you care about them even if you aren’t meeting in person.
Here are a few tips to help you reach out:
Calls to students: Principals and other administrators can use their data on chronic absence to think about what level of support might be needed to reach and support a student. Consider having social workers call students with the most challenged attendance and those who are part of a high risk group, such as in foster care or are already known to be homeless.
Calls to families: Families may be feeling overwhelmed and isolated. In addition to letting them know they are not alone, you can include practical support with local resources that offer food or medical help, such as foodbanks, grab-and-go meals, or online telehealth doctor visits using Zoom or Facetime.
For example, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) officials called students for a wellness check-in that began with this sentiment, “We’re thinking about you in these trying times, and we’re calling today to let you know that CMSD is here to support you even while our schools are closed.” The notice provides information about distribution sites for student carry-out meals and a reminder to check the district website for important updates. Find CMSD’s letter home here.
Parent Teacher Home Visits has developed tips and action items to help educators maintain trusting relationships, including setting up a video chat or phone call to families for a 5-10 minute check-in, or mailing the family a note. Find the Teacher Tips here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed six key principles for emergency communications. For example, CDC recommends that messaging acknowledge what people are feeling and what their challenges might be. This lets the reader or person being called know that you’re considering their perspectives when you offer recommendations. Find CDC’s key principles here.
Needs Survey: Collect information about student and family needs. Panorama has developed a community needs survey that is an excellent example. Consider adding questions to confirm or obtain additional contact information so that the staff person knows how they can reach a student or family. Once done, the survey results can be used to help assess gaps in resources. Find Panorama’s community needs survey.
Before each family is contacted to assess their needs, you might create a profile of information that includes the student’s grade level, home language, special education status, contact information and chronic absence information. The purpose of the information is to make sure that the person calling is aware of and sensitive to the student’s situation as they ask families questions like those on the community needs assessment
Documentation: Find a way to document what people learn for each individual student. Such information can ensure continuity of support during school closures and inform the strategy for helping each student get back into the routine of school when the building reopens.
As we all grapple with today’s unchartered education environment, we encourage you to make communication and family engagement a top priority.