The “start of school” has come and gone, and school district officials have made some of the hardest decisions they have ever made. Decisions that require re-evaluation nearly every day. The building preparation, bus preparation, and schedule concerns have all been addressed to the degree that gets the school year going. Now, it’s time to focus on teaching and learning. Ensuring that all students, whether entirely on-site, fully online, in a hybrid setting, or even homeschooled, reach a level of learning such that they are prepared for their future, as unsure as that may be.
Districts have long had curriculum, instruction, and assessment conversations. They have made decisions as a district regarding their local curriculum and expectations for student performance. Those conversations and decisions are critical within a district to ensure equal opportunity for students and smooth transitions from grade-level-to-grade-level and course-to-course. The professional staff has, in turn, had detailed conversations about the importance of those decisions and any ramifications for instruction and assessment. Those decisions, though, have probably only been communicated generally to parents.
In a typical school year or school environment, as a district, you are covered! Let’s get started! However, there is NOTHING normal about this school year. Students are attending school in a myriad of ways. For the decisions made by professional staff to be implemented for all the varieties of ways that students “attend” school, communication must be carefully planned and executed. Without good communication, unintended results might occur. Those unintended results might include:
- inequity issues among students,
- missed building blocks within the learning process,
- an unclear vision of what is “good enough” for student success,
- and students may work very hard but misunderstand expectations. Therefore, when they re-enter the in-person setting, they may feel their hard work was wasted.
For the most part, parents are engaged with helping their children succeed as students; investing in their children’s success is a high priority. However, parents have jobs, multiple children, past experiences with school, and rarely do they have professional training or experience as educators. Some of the decisions that the district made will make complete sense to their staff, but not necessarily to the people charged with monitoring and implementing the remote portion of a student’s instruction.
Often, it isn’t the “what” that non-educators can’t understand, it’s “why?” Having not been present for discussions among professional staff, decisions are communicated as, “Here’s what we are going to do,” not as, “Here’s what we are going to do, this is why we are doing it, and these are the expectations for your child because of what we’re doing.” In other words, the expectation has been to communicate decisions to stakeholders and parents without necessarily explaining “why” that decision was made.
This school year, with so many variables for how students are being educated, why is just as important to parents as what. Knowing why a particular decision was made could go a long way toward alleviating unintended consequences. It may also help parents determine appropriate steps to help a struggling student without losing sight of the expectation. The time spent designing this communication might pay big dividends when students come back together in a more “normal” setting.