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3 Dos and Don’ts for Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Mathematics After COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools around the world in March 2020, teachers, other educational leaders, and students have faced what may be the toughest and most challenging 12 to 18 months of their academic careers. In addition, parents, caregivers, and families were put in demanding new positions and roles that tested their patience, parenting skills, stamina, and more. No one could have predicted and prepared for such a shift to our “normal” schooling, but could the education community at large have been better prepared if schools had already established strong partnerships with families, specifically around mathematics education? We now have a chance to do better.  

Here are three ‘dos and don’ts’ for partnering with parents in elementary school math you can do now as you consider how to continue, or develop, those much-needed trusting relationships with families in the coming school year. 

Dos and Don’ts For Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math Before End of Year 
Do…  Don’t 
1. Show families the mathematical progress their children have made this year.  1. Feed into the “learning loss/COVID slide” buzzwords. 
2. Survey families by year’s end to understand their needs for support.  2. Assume families have been surveyed enough this year and skip an opportunity to show families you care about their needs. 
3. Reflect on your communication with families about mathematics instruction and identify one or two ways to start next year off on the right foot.  3. End the year without a vision for next year and how you (and your school) will do more to communicate and educate parents about their children’s mathematics instruction. 

1. Do Show Families the Mathematical Progress Their Children Have Made This Year. 

We cannot compare previous year’s academic data to this year’s data; there are far too many variations in the learning environment, pedagogy, and content for a comparison to be mathematically sound. That being said, fear mongering through catchy headlines and phrases like “learning loss” and “COVID slide” certainly catch readers’ attention and have allowed companies and organizations to profit off the pandemic. Imagine as a parent or caregiver seeing headlines like these daily: 

  • “Kids are behind in math because of COVID-19 
  • “Kids’ math skills have taken a hit during the pandemic 
  • “Coronavirus school closures cause epic slide in math 

Of course parents are worried and anxious – these articles make it seem as if an entire year has been wasted, one that these kids can’t get back. 

Considering that as many as 1 in every 5 U.S. adults suffers from math anxiety, these clickbait headlines aren’t helping us to partner with parents, caregivers, and families in mathematics education. Rather, they continue to perpetuate the myths that: 

  1. This year is comparable to past year’s academic circumstances; 
  2. School this year was a waste of time; 
  3. Children have suffered irreparable damage; 
  4. Learning mathematics is a race by which there are competitors; and 
  5. There is a finish line to learning. 

Instead of leaning into this harmful language, educators and leaders should make a concerted effort by year’s end to show parents the progress their children have made this year. What skills have they gained? How have they grown mathematically? Focus on the priority standards as noted by Student Achievement Partners in their 2020-2021 Achieve the Core document. Keep your information bite-sized and focused on the positive. Every child learned something and gained mathematically in some way. You just need to use your anecdotal, observational, or formal data to identify exactly what that data is and then thoughtfully communicate these positive learnings to parents, highlighting children’s specific mathematical strengths.

2. Do Survey Families to Deepen Your Understanding of Their Needs

Surveys are useful tools to quickly gain insight into how people think and feel at a given moment. The initial panic and anxiety of the onset of the pandemic has subsided for most families, yet many are still struck with grief, illness, and/or financial hardships. Understanding the needs of families by the year’s end will help you provide targeted support and advice for summer break and offer next year’s teacher a starting point for their initial communication once the new school year begins. Don’t assume families have been surveyed enough this year and skip an opportunity to show them you care about their needs and certainly don’t let the loudest voices generalize family needs. 

Wondering what types of questions you could put on your survey? Below are a few suggestions. 

  • What do you wonder most about your child’s progress in math this year? 
  • What about your child’s math learning this year are you most proud of? 
  • What about your child’s math learning this year makes you worried, if anything? 
  • What do you need at the start of next year to help you feel confident about your child’s math learning? 

Whatever questions you ask, be sure to keep the survey brief, only ask questions that will provide valuable information, and offer it as optional so families who are still overwhelmed can opt out.

3. Do Identify One to Two Ways to Proactively Communicate with Families at the Start of Next School Year.

Families have spent the better part of this year acting in some ways as their children’s educators. Many have come to appreciate school leaders and educators more for the challenging work they do daily. This is a great time to take advantage of positive dispositions toward schooling and be proactive in addressing families’ needs for next school year. Using the results of the survey from step 2 will help you, as well as spending some much needed time reflecting and creating a concise action plan for the start of next year.  

Some things you might want to consider as you reflect: 

  • What are your core values for partnering with parents, caregivers, and families? 
  • How can you clarify families’ roles in their children’s mathematics learning? 
  • What modes of communication did you use this year? Which were most effective? 
  • What aspects of the distance learning/remote model we experienced this year might you want to continue with next year for accessibility, inclusivity, and communication? 
  • What do families want to know about the way we teach math today? 

While we are all burnt out in many ways from this year, don’t let the school year end without reflecting on your practice and identifying one to two small goals to help the next school year start smoothly. 

To learn more about how and what to communicate with families, including access to sample surveys and letters, and other ideas and best practices for partnering with parents, caregivers, and families around elementary school math, be sure to check out our newly released publication, Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Leaders and Educators. 

 

Written by

Dr. Hilary Kreisberg is the Director of the Center for Mathematics Achievement and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is co-author with Dr. Matthew Beyranevand of the books Partnering With Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders (Corwin, 2021) and Adding Parents to the Equation: Understanding Your Child’s Elementary School Math (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Hilary is a frequent national, regional, and local speaker and has been featured on NPR Boston (WBUR) Radio and CBS Boston (WBZ) news and in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Education Weekly, Boston Magazine, and the Lowell Sun. 

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