Working Digitally in Student Homes

Every school year starts the same way. You set up your room to be the ideal learning environment. You create a space where students feel safe and families feel welcome. You think this will be the year that you will communicate consistently with families, share each week’s themes and activities, and send home ideas for families to build off of what happens in the classroom. Your students will make incredible growth because of the way you will engage with parents. You get that swell of satisfaction when everything is just so and families send their children off to their home away from home: your classroom.

Oh how the tables have turned.

Suddenly, rather than gathering students in the controlled environment of your tidy classroom, we’re figuring out how to digitally project ourselves into student homes where our students are surrounded, not by each other, but by their families and their families’ competing demands.

What an opportunity! (Hear me out.)

So here we are. Face to face with the elusive, evidence-based practice of family collaboration. Among the innumerable unforeseen effects that social distancing and quarantining will have on our society, one will be your sudden (new, developed, honed) aptitude for working collaboratively with families.

Start with a foundation while working digitally

Just like the beginning of a new school year, we can start by laying the groundwork.

First and foremost, are your students okay? Are their families okay? Do they have any health needs, food needs, hygiene needs, or other resources that supersede the math lesson? If so, who do we contact to find out about services to make sure basic needs are met?

We can find out how our students have been passing the time. With approval in our voices, we let them know that we also like binge watching great shows or that we wish we were as good at playing video games as them. We are complimentary of their parents and families for letting them sleep late, plan their own meals, and social network. After all, there is no “right way” to social distance. This is an unusual time and we’re all just doing the best we can. Our students are doing great. Their families are doing great.

Even better, now that students and their families have gotten themselves through the first few weeks of social distancing, now you’re on the team with them. Let the “home teams” know what they can expect from you. How often and via what platform will you be communicating? What happens if technology goes down? How and when can you be reached?

Build up while working digitally

This is the part you already know.

Slowly, steadily begin the work. Start with a low bar and very achievable goals. We cannot expect our students to go from a highly unstructured schedule to an intense workload. When we chunk activities, keep the work relevant to their experience, and celebrate even humble gains, we can put our students at ease so they are ready and able to hang with us once tasks become more demanding. That is to say, everything that you know about good teaching still applies.

When working digitally provide ample supports to allow students to be successful during independent work. Connect them and their families to targeted online resources (museums, live feeds from zoos, videos of book readings, etc.) to enrich your teaching. Connect your students to each other so they can learn in groups and maintain important relationships.

Build knowledge. Build confidence. Build relationships. Build people.

This is the part you already know.

Add on while working digitally

Here’s the “opportunity for growth” part.

Invite, don’t require, parent-participation. Parents have demands that we can’t begin to know about. Maybe they’ve lost their job due to social distancing. Maybe they’re trying to work from home so their children are having to entertain themselves. Maybe the stress from the uncertainty of the viral spread and sudden social isolation has impacted their mental health. However, regardless of what else may be happening, every parent wants what is best for their children. So we will communicate, support, and provide opportunities if and when parents are able to join in the action.

When setting up the class schedule, let parents know when they can expect to hear from you as well. Have a standing, weekly appointment to email or message parents with the week’s theme and resources. You can record brief videos to put the content into multiple formats that are more easily consumed.

Sending a weekly video of yourself updating parents and empowering them to support their children’s learning will go a long way in developing deeper relationships with families.


As we delve into the brave new world of online instruction, we will try things that undoubtedly will fail. Don’t sweat it! Keep trying, talk to your colleagues, and gather resources. Your students will benefit from your model of perseverance and resilience.

This is the part you already know.

You’re doing great.

Lisa Rukovena is an education specialist covering speech-language pathology here at the Education Service Center Region 13.

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