Oct 06 2022
Digital Workspace

More of Today’s Parent-Teacher Meetings are Happening Virtually

K-12 schools ramp up virtual communication to make it easier than ever for families to get involved without making a trip to campus.

A teacher stands in front of a screen in a north central Texas schoolroom. A few miles away, the mother of a middle school student sits down at her kitchen table, pulls out her laptop, clicks on a meeting link and is soon getting updates from her son’s teacher without ever leaving her home.

It’s parent-teacher conference time at Lewisville Independent School District, and another important meeting has begun. For both parties, connecting was seamless: just a few clicks and the session was underway.

When Lewisville moved to remote learning early in the pandemic, the district started offering virtual parent-teacher meetings, says Chris Langford, district director of network, infrastructure and cybersecurity.

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District leaders thought they would only need to offer remote meetings temporarily, but soon realized many parents preferred the option. “Rather than having to get time off from work and schedule their day around coming in to a meeting, now they can connect with us from anywhere,” he says.

For parents, these virtual conferences can take place on whatever devices they happen to have. Some use their own smartphones or laptops, while others turn to the school-issued tablets the district deploys to students through its one-to-one program.

Lewisville ISD Makes Its Virtual Meetings More Immersive

Teachers also have flexibility when it comes to how they connect for such meetings, but Langford says many choose to use the district’s specially designed rooms for remote communications. “We installed them to get us through the pandemic, and now they’re used for multiple purposes, including parent meetings,” he says.

Of Lewisville ISD’s 69 campuses, 64 feature such rooms. There’s one in each of the district’s elementary schools, while its middle and high schools have two apiece. Each space is equipped with an Aver pan-tilt-zoom camera, a Nureva microphone and sound bar, and either a connected high-definition television or an Epson short-throw projector with a Da-Lite IDEA screen.

The rooms were originally meant for teachers and staff to use for district meetings. “It’s a much more immersive experience for everyone involved,” Langford says. The cameras use artificial intelligence to automatically track speakers. “If you’re in the room, the big screen allows you to easily see speakers who are participating remotely, and the sound system is really high-quality. It’s like everyone is in there with you.”

Lewisville relies on Webex for videoconferencing, and teachers and administrators have laptops they can use to meet remotely with anyone off campus. Others simply hold these meetings in an empty classroom or other quiet space, but a growing number now look to leverage the new virtual conference rooms instead.

RELATED: Learn three things to know about audio in the K–12 classroom.

K–12 Schools Host Parent Meetings on Popular Social Media Sites

While Lewisville ISD has raised the bar for what virtual communications can look like in K–12 education, it’s running with the pack in its decision to continue remote parent meetings after COVID-19.

“Attendance at parent-teacher conferences skyrocketed during the pandemic,” says ISTE Chief Learning Officer Joseph South. “It wasn’t because parents suddenly became interested in the success of their children; it was because suddenly those conferences were a lot more accessible to parents with obligations that weren’t flexible.”

Now, South says, schools across the country see this as a major lesson learned. They don’t have to ask parents to physically come to school to meet their children’s teachers or attend school board meetings. “Instead, they can connect with whatever technologies happen to work best for them.”

Orange County Public Schools in Florida has also embraced this “multiple modalities” approach to parent communication.

“I think what we’ve seen is that the past few years have permanently changed the face of parent communication,” says Mariel Milano, OCPS director of family engagement and digital outreach. “We’ve learned that we need to be where parents are, not where we want them to be.”

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To that end, for “meet the teacher” days at OCPS, there are face-to-face options for parents and guardians of the 206,000 students who want them, or “they can pop into a Microsoft Teams meeting and get to know teachers that way,” Milano says. Some teachers also use Microsoft’s Flip to share prerecorded videos of their classrooms and hold live chats. The district has also started using social media for general communication across the school community.

“For example, we’re about to roll out new student assessments,” Milano says. In the past, the district would have only sent out emails and printed notifications. Now, they have also scheduled a Facebook Live event that will make it easy for the entire district community to participate.

“All of our families will be able to go online, if they choose, to hear all about it and ask questions,” she says. “We’ll have team members from the assessment department in the chat box, and we’ll make everything available afterward for parents who can’t attend.”

WATCH NOW: Mariel Milano discusses parent engagement in the Focus on EDU podcast.

Desert Sands Schools Work to Make Parent Involvement Easy

Tiffany Norton understands the importance of allowing parents to choose how they participate in their children’s education. The chief innovation and information officer at Desert Sands Unified School District in California says technology has made a significant difference for families that struggled to engage with schools prior to the pandemic.

“Now, they don’t have to find child care or leave work to attend that assembly,” she says. “They can log in on their phones for 20 minutes and still participate.”

It’s a similar story for parent-teacher meetings, which can now take place via videoconference if a family prefers. All district classrooms include webcams, which teachers can deploy for remote meetups, and all students and staff have Chromebooks they can use for digital communication.

Norton says parents appreciate that the district has made school involvement relatively easy through tools like Zoom and Google Meet and through messaging apps like ClassDojo and Remind.

The pandemic may be winding down, she says, but virtual communication at Desert Sands is ramping up. “Better connectivity is better for everyone, but the biggest thing is that it’s what parents want.”

READ MORE: Minimize video lag with wireless casting.

Photography by Nitashia Johnson

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