During the pandemic, the lines between home and school have blurred, and many parents have a front-row seat to their child’s education through virtual learning. Families throughout the US have experienced their kid’s schools differently over the last year, and for Andrea Henson, a parent in Washington, DC and trainer at Flamboyan, the good outweighs the bad. In fact, Andrea has never felt closer to her four children – all of whom are distance learning – and their teachers.
School is the number one priority in Andrea’s house and throughout the pandemic, she has continued to advocate for her kids’ education. Typically, she relies on academic partnering events like Academic Parent-Teacher Team (APTT) meetings to work with her kids’ teachers and support her children’s education. These meetings provide space for families to get resources like learning activities specific to their child’s curriculum.
Although her touchpoints with teachers are all virtual now, they still provide valuable support to Andrea. Her kids’ teachers have gotten creative and kept them continuously engaged through activities like poetry slams and video contests that keep her up-to-date on what each child is learning. Andrea also works with the teachers individually when extra support is needed. If one of her children is struggling with a specific topic, Andrea “usually email[s] and say[s], ‘She didn’t understand this on her homework assignment – can you explain it to me so I can explain it to her?’”
A highlight of academic partnering during the pandemic was when Andrea’s middle-school aged daughter held her first student-led conference (SLC). During the SLC, her daughter shared her grades, strengths, and areas of improvement with Andrea and her advisory teacher. Andrea says, “It was a good feeling – not hearing it from the teacher but hearing it from my daughter.” When her daughter shared she was struggling in math, the three of them arranged tutoring sessions for extra support. Engaging secondary students to take an active role in academic partnering can also empower students to advocate for themselves and monitor their learning.
One-time events like parent-teacher conferences are powerful tools to support students’ growth. But true academic partnership is a way of being. Andrea and her kids’ teachers partner with each other, support each other, and share advice to ensure they’re doing everything possible for the students to thrive. But they didn’t get here overnight – this way of being was developed over time through what Flamboyan calls “shared power.”
Shared power comes from a place of understanding and empathy. When Andrea’s family had technical difficulties at the beginning of the pandemic, her children’s teachers didn’t penalize her for it but instead, listened to what she needed, giving her ideas and resources. Even now, “My son’s teacher isn’t calling, saying, ‘Oh, your child missed a day of school. Your child didn’t log in. Your child missed a piece of work.’ She’s calling, saying, ‘Hey, I see that your child is late. Is he OK? He’s usually my helper in the morning. Do you need anything from me?'”
Educating students during a pandemic is difficult and unprecedented. Andrea’s advice to teachers and leaders working closely with families is to “be you and be authentic”: “If a teacher tells me they’re nervous about something, I’m the type of person to reassure you, ‘We’ll be nervous together, and we’ll make mistakes together. It’s only right for us to make the mistake and start over.’”