It was comparatively easy before the pandemic. Parents would drop their children off each morning, or they’d get the bus in, and they’d come home in the evening laden with homework. Or, if boarding, students would be dropped off at the beginning of each Term or new school year, where they’d remain under your care for an extended period of time. Through all this, parents would keep an eye on their progress through school reports, grades and Parents’ Evening.
But e-learning in schools is different.
Students have spent the best part of six months learning at home 24/7, interacting with their peers and teachers exclusively through digital platforms. Facing such a dramatic change, you can understand why some parents are sceptical of the value of online learning. However, this does present an additional challenge for schools to navigate: how do you encourage parental buy-in by demonstrating the quality of online schooling?
As the pandemic enters a new phase and children return to school, many will be asked to self-isolate and return to online schooling once more. The medium is here to stay, at least until 2021.
Effectively manage the curriculum
The one thing that doesn’t change regardless of the learning environment is the curriculum, so it’s a familiar place to start. Whether it’s through documentation, Department meetings or similar, your school is likely to have existing processes in place to help your teachers effectively deliver each component of the curriculum to their students.
The challenge therefore, becomes about transferring this online. By using digital tools to share documents, such as Google Classroom, Dropbox or Moodle, and setting up departmental meetings (via Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc.), you can ensure your staff are confident in continuing to deliver the full curriculum to their students. This confidence will have a huge impact when speaking to parents, helping put them at ease surrounding online learning.
Our top tip
Trust your staff members. Many of them will have been teaching for years, so they should know the curriculum inside and out. If you have any staff members who are still in training or may need more support than others, make sure you have an open line of communication for them and that they know where to go to seek support if they need it. Taking care of your teaching staff is just as important as looking after your students during these difficult times.
Implement flexible timetabling
For many, this is a new way of teaching and a perfect opportunity to be as flexible and adaptable as possible in approaching your timetables. With no breaks required in-between lessons to travel to different classrooms and much less interaction with their peers, many schools have noticed that the timetable for online schooling can be pretty overwhelming for both students and staff members.
To mitigate this and simultaneously achieve greater buy-in from parents, your teachers should ideally prepare lesson plans 6 weeks in advance and consider a few important factors:
It’s not just your teaching staff who have to adjust to digital learning; it’s also your students. Making sure they have time to log on and set-up each morning, and at the beginning of each lesson, is hugely valuable so they feel more prepared for the day and classes ahead. There may also be technical difficulties during classes, so having a contingency plan in place which both students and teachers are aware of, will help mitigate any potential panic if these situations do arise.
Incorporate PE and sports
To replace PE lessons and help provide students with a rounded curriculum, as well as improving student fitness and mental wellbeing, you may want to include lessons involving workout videos or exercises which students can follow to help them break from ‘screentime’. Incorporating competitions or Q&A sessions after each video tutorial will also help ensure students participate.
Introduce a dedicated “parent time”
Include in your schedule an opportunity for parents to chat to you online and ask any questions they might have. By scheduling these frequently and ensuring you include times outside of ‘working hours’ (for the many parents who are still working from home), you’re increasing the accessibility of school information for parents who will value this opportunity.
Our top tip
Make sure you listen to feedback from both your students and staff members. If they’re struggling with the existing timetable structure, then you may want to consider being more flexible with lesson times and school hours e.g. some schools are dedicating afternoons to physical activity classes and/or workshops to break up intense online classroom sessions, whilst others are reducing lesson times to 45 minutes and introducing longer lunch breaks.
Track student progress
One of the most tangible ways to demonstrate the success of online learning is to assess the progress of your students as they take onboard new aspects of the curriculum. In doing so, you’ll be able to provide parents with a familiar numerical value they can easily interpret, helping reassure them that the academic progress of their children is being monitored. That’s why you need to make sure that the facility to set and record online assessments are part of any Virtual Learning Environment you set up or the Learning Management System you might choose to use.
The results of these should then be stored within your Management Information System, so you can refer back to them whenever you need to. This will be particularly important following Ofqual’s recent announcement surrounding the structure of this year’s A-Levels and GCSEs, which involves grades being awarded based on a combination of teacher assessment, class ranking and past school performance. As a result, this data will need to be readily accessible so you can pull together your school reports and help you determine your students’ exam results.
Our top tip
As important as assessments are, be careful you don’t over-test your students! Take the opportunity to find new ways to measure student progress, including homework tasks, multiple choice questionnaires, group quizzes and more. These will still ensure you have key insights that you can communicate with parents, but it puts your students under less pressure whilst they’re adjusting to online schooling. It’s important to recognise that student progress extends beyond the academic, so take these important steps to ensure you’re also accounting for their wellbeing.
Communicate with parents
Another way to get parents onboard with online learning is to make sure they know enough about it to feel reassured. Together, we are all facing unprecedented circumstances and maintaining strong communication across your school community is a very important part of working through these challenges. By ensuring that all parents are aware of the school’s proposed approach during closures, the structure of learning for their children and their progress in each subject, they can be much more confident surrounding the impact of online learning.
By using platforms that fully integrate with your MIS, such as dedicated Parent Portals and Apps, you can make it even easier to share this key information with parents in real-time. It also means they can control when and how they access these insights, all from the safety and comfort of their own homes. In this way, you’re empowering them to have greater engagement in school life.
Our top tip
Make sure you have a solid communications plan in place that all your staff members are aware of. This will hopefully prevent staff members across the school being flooded with enquiries from parents and teachers becoming overwhelmed with the sole responsibility of communicating with parents on top of demanding online teaching schedules. For help building a holistic communications plan, check out some of our top tips for communicating with parents during school closures.
Digital platforms to support you with online learning are fundamental to the continuation of school life during these difficult times and by demonstrating its value to your parent community, you can increase their buy-in and build the foundations for an even stronger online schooling environment.
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