Now is the time.

Fear. Uncertainty. Frustration. Isolation. 

In recent conversations with districts across the country and in analyses of surveys for clients, these words have come up a lot.

Families, educators, and community members are feeling a whole lot of unpleasant things as we grapple with how – or if – we can simultaneously facilitate safety and high-quality learning experiences in our nation’s schools.

Instead of shopping sprees at Staples (oh, how I wish!), we are experiencing back-to-school season like never before.

Reopening plans change so quickly we can’t keep up, and districts are scrambling to ensure that the safety protocols can be met and that all students can actually access and benefit from remote learning.

My conversations and analyses lately have shown me how palpable and salient these fears and questions are for so many people. 

The good news? While no one really knows what will happen with COVID, we do have some ways to alleviate the feelings I listed above.

Think about these: Communication. Relationships. Empathy. Engagement. 

Let’s be honest: we have always needed these things.

However, with most districts going fully or partially remote this fall, the role of families in children’s education is even more prominent than before. 

For those of us who have long promoted the critical nature of family and community engagement, we’ve been saying to ourselves lately, “Now’s our time.”

It’s time for family engagement to be a priority for all educators, community members, and policymakers, not an afterthought. 

We must lift up the voices of families, truly hear what they have to say, and use their feedback as a key driver for decisions moving forward. 

It’s time for us to leverage the wealth of resources in our communities to support families who are struggling right now. 

In my city, I was pleased to see that the City of Columbus and Columbus City Schools have agreed to spend $7 million of the CARES Act funds on providing Chromebooks for every student and wifi hotspots for families who lack internet access.

It’s time to embrace partnerships with organizations who can help make learning fun, interactive, and accessible.

Here’s an example of how one of my favorite local institutions, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), is facilitating the exploration of science for children in under-resourced communities. 

It’s time for us to focus our energy and public dollars on practices that have been proven effective and to put systems in place to begin tracking our progress. 

AttendanceWorks has done a great job of bringing data tracking to the forefront as we work to ensure that all students have an equitable school experience this fall.

More than anything, it’s time for us to dismantle barriers created by historical and institutionalized racism and to embrace all children and families as our own. 

We need to be unafraid to check our privilege, acknowledge racist policies and practices, and work to rectify harm that has been done.

If you’re not sure where to get started, here is a free training on implicit bias for K-12 educators from the Kirwan Institute on the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State (I attended an incredibly powerful trainings with them this week.).

As we continue to weather the uncertainty from COVID, we need to remember that we all have the ability to communicate effectively, build meaningful relationships, empathize with others, and engage families in partnership.

With these priorities and a plan for how to measure if we’re doing them right, we will be able to help all children, families, and communities make the most of this unconventional back-to-school time. 

How are institutions and organizations near you embracing engagement during this time?