Moving from Parent Involvement to Family Engagement in COVID-19 “New Normal”

Parent engagement has long been known as a key pillar of student success. Research shows that students make greater academic progress when educators meaningfully engage with parents. With the impact of COVID-19 on schooling, fostering robust partnerships could not be more critical. 

Our “new normal” takes parent engagement to a new level and asks us to reconsider traditional roles and forms of communication.  

Pre-pandemic, schools typically expected a degree of parental involvement, including signing progress reports, attending a parent teacher conference or giving consent for field trips. Almost all schools offered additional ways for family members to engage, from fundraising to volunteering to school-wide events. 

In mid-March, many parents went from supporting homework to supporting the entire curriculum, requiring frequent, if not daily, check-ins with educators. Parents reported they felt like teachers themselves, often struggling to balance their own jobs on top of some version of home schooling. With these new responsibilities, families needed a steadier stream of information from schools and teachers. 

For educators, the change was just as overwhelming, if not more so. Their jobs changed overnight, delivering instruction remotely, with new tools and norms to learn. Without physical classrooms, many teachers lost the ability to connect 1-on-1 with their students and found themselves relying on the support of parents or caregivers more than ever before. We saw educators tag teaming with parents to engage students, redefining family engagement as truly involving the whole family! 

Of course, these shifts had huge implications for the Actionaly team, and we have fast tracked new ways to support family engagement. 

To start with, educators are now able to reach out to students directly via Actionaly, while also making these exchanges visible to parents. Teachers can clearly see if their students (or parents) opened that classroom announcement or signed-up for teacher office hours. 

We also added 1-1 engagement capabilities. We finalized Actionaly’s new chat feature so that teachers can reach out to families, parents and students alike. Coming this summer is voice-calling to further personalize engagement. 

And while there may not be many field trips in the fall, we’ve added new workflows to support activities such as device loan authorizations, teacher-office hours, video call event coordination; a whole new set of Actionable Messages to drive and measure family engagement. 

As with any large-scale change, this “new normal” will continue to evolve over months. New paradigms will emerge, and behaviors will adjust as the steep learning curve levels off and best practices become more established. It will be the same for Actionaly. We are committed to listening to our community of educators and families and finding the most meaningful ways to support what matters most, relationships.