By Leana R. Malinowsky
My second grade class of 2019–2020 was a dynamic group of students. Curious, social, energetic, and carefree would not suffice in describing their full character or potential. I’m grateful that spring of 2020 showed me they also were resilient, the most significant trait they needed as we shifted from the classroom to remote learning. Along on this voyage came my co-teacher (special education), their ESL/ESL bilingual teacher, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, two counselors, two RTI (Response to Intervention) teachers, four related arts teachers, and, of course, the students’ families. As the captain of this crew, I knew the ship had to weather the storm. Inspired by their kindred spirits and eager nature, I grabbed the helm for one of the most challenging experiences of my 12-year career.
Communication with families and as an educational team is important enough in a typical academic year. During all-virtual learning, it became even more critical to continue this positive interaction and not let the uncertainty act as an anchor. Maximizing collaboration with support staff naturally created positive communication with families.
“Co-teachers must be good communicators, respect each other, have similar teaching philosophies, be willing to spend time planning together, and at times be willing to drop their own ideas and go with the other person’s plans. Good communication with parents is also essential” (Murdock et al., 2015, pp. 46–47).
When navigating uncharted waters teaching virtually, use this guide for peer collaboration to enhance communication with families. These are key elements for success during a time when many families are managing virtual learning.
- Flexibility is key. The virtual classroom has many unexpected challenges such as additional steps to deliver instruction and set up meetings through technology . Give colleagues and families flexibility on when to meet and plan. This allows everyone to access necessary resources and offers the opportunity to work as a team.
- Make planning a priority. Set times to meet with support staff individually and as a group to discuss the structure of virtual lessons, scheduling, and methods of communication, and decide which families need additional support systems for success. Make sure the team communicates about ongoing plans and anticipates adjustments.
- Debrief regularly. Educational teams need to utilize the same practices virtually as they would in the classroom to discuss student needs, understanding, roles, and differentiated lessons. Take advantage of others’ perspectives on lessons and student performance. This allows everyone to be objective and offer suggestions. Debriefing should be frequent and consistent based on scheduling flexibility.
- Have dependable communication. Speaking with families frequently ensures they are aware of assignments and important information, and that their child is receiving all required resources and services. This refines and builds the trust of family members, especially those who might have language barriers. Invite ESL teachers to meetings for families who need translation. With this support, family members can communicate freely and have an active voice in the conversation.
- Utilize shared spaces. Use a shared space to brainstorm, such as Google Keep or a Google Doc for all teachers and support staff to share ideas, concerns, and questions, and plan meetings, and so on. Implement a communication app such Class Dojo (Google Classroom or other related apps) to post general information to families to see collectively. Much like a weekly or monthly newsletter, this disseminates information quickly, and many apps offer translation. It also allows multiple teachers to post messages to parents and have them shared quickly. Shared spaces can help extend planning and communication beyond meeting times.
- Set schedules. Create a personalized schedule for students who receive additional remediation and support services. Include dates, times, and any needed materials. Share the schedule with families and update it frequently. Schedules benefit everyone in and out of the classroom. They provide structure in a learning space that has the potential to become unfastened.
Rising to the challenge of remote learning was certainly not easy, especially with limited time to prepare. I knew I had to implement best practices, creativity, collaboration, and communication together in order to sail successfully through the remainder of the year. It was imperative we stayed on course and worked together as we learned new platforms. I learned much more in the last few months of school than I ever anticipated; however, my skills have stretched beyond the horizon. My compass points provided guidance and offered possibilities for teaching in the future, both virtually and in the classroom. Keep these points in a captain’s log for a guide on the next voyage, wherever it may be!
Ms. Malinowsky is an elementary educator at Carteret Public Schools and has more than 13 years of experience teaching general education, special education, ESL students, and reading intervention. Ms. Malinowsky is a certified reading specialist. She is the Associate Counselor for the KDP chapter at Kean University and is passionate about working with preservice teachers and teacher leadership.
Murdock, L., Finneran, D., & Theve, K. (2015). Co-teaching to reach every learner. Educational Leadership, 73(4), 42–47.