In the coming days and weeks families will begin the transition back to having their children in some type school environment. Without question, families have many questions and concerns and will need support to work through the process of having their children return to school.
Of course, you cannot anticipate and may not always be able to immediately answer all of their questions and quell each of their fears. However, there are several concrete steps you can take to help families understand, anticipate, and prepare for what lies ahead.
First, as you develop plans and make decisions about the format and structure of schools as they open, focus on and share the goals or decision criteria you are using. As examples:
- Will the plan adhere to local health department guidelines and advice?
- Will optimal learning environments receive top priority consideration?
- Will the plan include options and flexibility for parents to make choices about learning environments?
- Will the plan include options and considerations should it be necessary to close schools again?
Clear communication about the goals of your plan and criteria for decisions will provide reassurance to families and assist their understanding of elements and processes with which they will have to deal. Further, the presence of clear goals may be useful if you discover unexpected implications or conditions change such that you must make significant adjustments to the plan.
Second, to the extent practical, provide families with options regarding the setting and structure of their children’s school experience. The options may be as significant as whether students will engage in regular face-to-face instruction, experience a blended environment, or full online experience; or as specific as participating in open recess, unstructured lunch, physical education, or other special activities. You know the limits of your flexibility and capacity. Just know that offering some meaningful choices can build acceptance and support as you navigate through uncertain times.
Third, to the extent you can, offer families flexibility should they find that the learning environment their children are experiencing is not working for them. Having the ability to discuss concerns with a decisionmaker, seek additional support, or even make a change can provide important reassurance and build willingness for families to have their children participate in a new or different environment.
Fourth, if you plan to introduce new technology tools and applications this fall that will require support from families, consider developing webinars, online videos, and other supports to help families become acquainted with the new tools and applications before they will be expected to support their use with their children. Managing technology was a significant source of frustration and stress for many families when face-to-face instruction was interrupted in the spring. Anything you and your staff can do to prepare families and increase their comfort and confidence will make a positive difference as they reengage this fall.
Obviously, you cannot anticipate every question and allay every fear. Yet, the more timely and relevant information you provide, the more flexibility you offer in areas of concern, and the more support you make available when families feel the need, the greater will be the success families experience and the more support you will in turn feel from families.