A Culturally Responsive Approach to Family Engagement During Remote Instruction

By Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero

The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a new experience for educators, leaders, and our school systems. Most importantly, it sparked a change in the communication strategies we utilize to support families. Now educators use electronic communication as more than an additional form of family outreach: it is a means of teaching.

How can this outreach extend itself further to multilingual families? Moreover, how can it support families through a culturally responsive mindset?

Depending on your student population and resources, children experience online learning on an extensive learning curve. It’s the same for their families. As an educator, it is crucial that you survey your families to discover what works best for them.

First, consider the outreach your school or teaching team sends to families. Are the communications written or offered in the families’ home language? Go deeper! Is the family literate in this home language? My grandparents were illiterate, yet spoke Spanish fluently. Consider the way you survey and communicate with families, and make sure you’re engaging in a culturally responsive manner. Provide voice recordings within communications through QR Codes and utilize technology on Google Translate to support families.

Second, discuss with families their time frames and the support synchronous or asynchronous lessons provide. Synchronous lessons provide first-hand support, with interaction among students and the teaching team. Asynchronous lessons provide activities, with time frames outside of a scheduled session. Both types of learning support and affect families differently. By surveying families, educators can note their working schedules, family structure, and even support the schedule created at home by the family.

Remember that families with essential workers and multiple children can have trouble meeting a certain time frame, especially if they only have one electronic device at home. Ask families how comfortable they are with technology and then support them wherever they need assistance. Do they know how to access Google Classroom? If not, you can send families how-to videos in their home-language by searching for them online.

Furthermore, utilize the families’ funds of knowledge. Is there a family member who can play an instrument, create videos, or even share a personal story related to the class’s current unit or theme? As educators, we often try to find new resources and create new materials, but families are assets right in front of you! Encourage family communication by creating a parent group or establishing classroom roles. Set up a heritage partnership between families on a school-wide basis. Heritage partnerships allow families of the same cultural community to share resources, ask questions, and receive answers in their home-language. It builds a partnership based on trust.

Lastly, connect families with community-wide resources that will offer guidance and support. Certain libraries and educational organizations are providing virtual tutoring, language services, how-to videos, and partnering with heritage groups to offer language translations. By taking the initiative to support families through a culturally responsive mindset, we convey the message that our families are a priority. We recognize their hard-work and look to support them at their level as they need.


Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Family Engagement in the Time of COVID-19 and Remote Learning, and Always. New York University Steinhardt, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

Mrs. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is a Doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. She works as an Early Childhood Instructional Coordinator for the Department of Early Childhood Education in NYC. Ms. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is an advocate for family engagement in schools.

“Distance Learning”: Can an Oxymoron Illuminate Joyful Teaching?

By Shelley Sherman

Today’s blogger is Shelley Sherman, who was the author of the article “Nurturing Joyful Teaching in an Era of Standardization and Commodification,” which appears in the January-March 2021 issue of The Educational Forum. This article is currently available free online.

Movement. Energy. Spontaneity. The spirited staccato of a classroom discussion. A touch on the back. A subtle gesture. A warm, encouraging glance across the room. Distance learning cannot replicate the interpersonal dynamics and joyfulness of school communities where rich learning takes place moment-by-significant-moment in the classroom. What’s more, everyday experiences in many now silent hallways, gyms, cafeterias, and playgrounds play a significant role in learning, too. Can meaningful teaching and learning and the joy attached to them be experienced in the artificial glare and virtual reality of an electronic screen? Yes. And no.

During these fraught times, highly committed, caring teachers find paths to communicate their care and dedication to their students, animate and energize learning, and continue to persevere no matter the context. Such perseverance can yield joy in unanticipated ways for teachers and students, even at a distance. The fortitude of indefatigable teachers is fueled by passion for their work, the commitment to their calling. Where there appear to be no options, dedicated, talented teachers find them.

But distance learning also suggests a contradiction in terms. Learning brings us closer to, not farther away from, new understandings. It strengthens, rather than weakens, capacities to think deeply, and cultivates, rather than hinders, habits of mind that cross disciplines. A teacher’s capacity to nurture meaningful learning’s ineffable features, to coax gradually that which may be tentatively unfolding, is handicapped by physical distance. The realization of these aspirational aspects of teaching and learning is what makes them so profoundly joyful.

And distance is not the only barrier to experiencing joy for teachers or for students. The commodification of education, the notion that education is something to be delivered, has already taken a toll on teacher morale and co-opted teaching autonomy during the normal academic school year. Those who suggest we have to use distance learning to teach new “material” liken learning to a commodity. In many instances, teachers feel the pressure to maintain the pace of curriculum expectations regardless of the significant challenges to do so in a virtual environment.

Joy is attached to both pedagogy and relationship in teaching. How, then, can these anxiety-laden times provide a space for reflection about what teachers do have control over in classrooms, virtually, albeit with considerable limitations, and, with unlimited possibility, in-person? Serious-minded teachers cultivate trust and nurture mutual respect gradually, one student at a time, and, simultaneously, build a collective culture of trust and respect across a classroom of individuals who regularly engage with one another in both intentional and serendipitous ways. The limitations of distance learning and closed schools in creating such a culture bring home the ways in which teachers can make a profound difference in their students’ lives, and vice versa, when schools are open. The moment in which we find ourselves invites timely reflection about sustaining a vision for joy.

Questions such as these widen the lens on such reflection: How do I see each and every student in ways that are unique and personal?  How have I made a positive difference in the life of a particular student? When have I said something harmful?  Something that has impacted a student for better rather than worse?

As David Hansen (2018) suggests, finding oneself in the role of teacher means finding oneself in the practice. It includes experiencing personal fulfillment and joy in distinct ways and recognizing one’s shortcomings as well as one’s strengths (see Sherman, 2020).

There is no better time for those who see teaching as a calling to reflect upon how being present with each student as a unique human being, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, sustains the steady, joyful heartbeat of their practice. There is nothing virtual about it.


Hansen, D.T. (2018). Bearing witness to the fusion of person and role in teaching. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 52(4), 21-48. https://doi: 10.5406/jaesteduc.52.4.0021

Sherman, S. (2020). Evolving enactments of personal fulfillment and service in teaching. In D. De Marzio (Ed.), David Hansen and the call to teach: Renewing the work that teachers do (pp. 13-26). Teachers College Press.

Shelley Sherman is the author of Teacher Preparation as an Inspirational Practice: Building Capacities for Responsiveness, for which she received the award for Exemplary Research in Teaching and Teacher Education from the American Educational Research Association in 2015. She has published numerous articles about teacher responsiveness and the moral dimensions of teaching and is Associate Professor of Education Emerita at Lake Forest College.

#homeschooling: Problems with Synchronous Learning in COVID-19

Today’s blogger is Wendy Levin, MA, CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist in Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado. She currently co-teaches a special needs preschool classroom and has recent past experience in PK-8 public schools.

If you are an educator, you are keenly aware of the inequities of the educational system.

Not all families have the privilege to be able to take time from work to help their child learn. Not all families have access to speedy internet for those teleconference calls. Not all families have the mental space to worry about both their changed financial status and how to help their child learn school material.

Not all families.

How many school districts have forced both teachers and parents to organize and schedule themselves so they can have “class” at a certain time every day? How many of you teachers and specialists have had students lose attention and wander away from the teleconference calls or simply not call in to begin with?

Everyone loses. That’s the reason #imexhausted and #homeschooling have skyrocketed in their usage during the pandemic.

So why don’t we just choose a more equitable method? Because it’s not what we’re used to?

News flash! This whole pandemic is a situation that no one is used to. Let’s give ourselves and our families space while also providing the same instruction.

What is “synchronous learning”?

“Synchronous learning” simply means that all students and teachers are present at the same time on the same platform. They must schedule a time and a platform to meet and they all must be there at the same time.

This is impossible for too many families. Expecting a student or family to be online at a certain time every day is often too much to ask. I argue that we must rely heavily on parents for synchronous learning for PK-8 in order to gain student attention, keep them in front of a computer, help with login and technical aspects, and help with general attendance. This pulls parents and guardians away from the time that they need to work or handle family matters. They have no control in their schedule or their child’s learning in this model.

If there is “synchronous learning,” then is there such thing as “asynchronous learning”?

Absolutely. There are many ways to do asynchronous learning. You simply have to make sure a student has options. You have to make your activities and lessons available so the students and families can access them at any time. This allows parents to work with their children when it is efficacious for them. How much more equitable could that be?

Here are some ways to provide asynchronous, equitable education:

  • Create private or unlisted YouTube videos of yourself teaching the lesson. Provide students with the links.
  • Use your Class Dojo, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Blackboard to post videos or assignments
  • Provide a wide variety of office hours that work with your schedule, so students and parents can drop in at any time to ask questions if they need to.
  • Work with your specialists to provide any special education techniques needed for the lesson prior to releasing a lesson. Change your lessons accordingly.
  • Create discussion boards so students can continue to collaborate and discuss
  • Don’t punish a student for not completing work on time. Let them turn it in when they can.

Remember, every single family, including your own, is struggling during this pandemic, but we will all get out of this together.

You can still provide quality and equitable education.