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Engaging Families in Tough Times

Families want a great education for their children. But challenging circumstances–like a job loss or sudden illness–can make it hard for families to be in touch with teachers as much as they’d like. This is especially true for families new to the U.S. and families who face systemic barriers to healthcare, food security, employment and housing. Barriers that, in the current global pandemic, are greater than ever before.

As a teacher, we know you’re doing your best to support your students. That’s why we’ve gathered tips to help you engage families facing major challenges so that you – and they – can continue to help their children learn and thrive.

Make contact - and make sure you have the best contact information

Families that are overwhelmed may need a nudge to remind them you are there for support. If you’ve sent a message and received no response, send a polite follow up within a day or two. If you’ve reached out multiple times and still haven’t heard back, you may not have the best contact information for that family member. Check with a colleague or administrator to see if you have the right number for that family member. You might even reach out to another student’s family, if you know of an existing relationship, to see if they can help put you in touch.

You can tell if parents are receiving your messages in TalkingPoints. 

Build a connection

Before you send assignments or reminders, create a connection and show that you care. This can be as simple as asking a parent or guardian how they are doing before diving into school-related matters. A “How are you?” can provide valuable insights into what’s happening at home and what challenges a family might be facing. Asking follow up questions to better understand a family’s circumstances can also help you figure out how to be their ally moving forward.

Asking about interests, hobbies, and skills is a low-stress way to engage families too–and one that gives you valuable insight into what kind of activities a student likes to do at home. By investing time in relationship-building, you’ll create stronger lines of communication with families, build trust, and ultimately help your students thrive.

Regularly sharing positive messages via TalkingPoints is another great way to cultivate connections with caregivers.

Be flexible and meet families where they are

Families in crisis must put other priorities before schoolwork. If you know a family is experiencing hardship, be flexible when it comes to due dates and expectations for their involvement in learning activities. Offer to check in at a time that works best for them and set calendar reminders for yourself to do that. Schedule time to make up activities at school or via video chat or phone call when possible, so that their student doesn’t fall behind. Going that extra mile means a lot to families.

Making learning resources easily accessible. Putting recorded lessons online and sending them to your parents is one way to support at-home learning. So is creating time (i.e. office hours) for families to check in with you about questions they might have about their child’s work.

Offer support

Not sure how to support a family in need? Simply asking “how can I help?” is a good place to start. Even if you can’t provide support, chances are you can connect the family to an administrator, counselor, support staff member, or community organization who can. Just by reaching out and asking, you are giving families a chance to be heard–and that’s valuable too.

If you’re not sure which families need extra support, use TalkingPoints to create and send a poll. This can help you figure out which families do and do not have consistent access to Wifi, tech, or, even more critically, food and shelter.

For more ways to support families, check out and share our parent resource guide and visit our Advice & Answers Page

Thanks for all you do to support your students and the people who matter most to them.