What Can We Learn from Parents?

Learning Heroes
5 min readJan 29, 2021

First in new webinar series explores ideas to strengthen parent-teacher partnerships

by Melissa Rayworth

Kareem Neal, 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year

In the years before anyone imagined a pandemic might disrupt schooling in America, Kareem Neal was already thinking about connecting with parents. He believes that successful teaching is about working as a whole community — teachers, paraprofessionals, students and families all supporting one another.

“The classroom community,” he says, “is bigger than just the folks that are there in the room.”

And yet, forging connections can be tough. His high school students cope with cognitive delays and other challenges. Their parents are involved in their education, but many work long hours and evenings, and some are not native English speakers. So even with tools like Classroom Dojo, it wasn’t always easy.

Then came the pandemic. Hard as it was to teach remotely, Neal built on connections he’d already made and embraced the newfound window into his students’ home lives. Powerful things began to happen.

He asked questions and really listened to the answers. And by bringing what he learned about his students home lives into his teaching practice, it actually made instruction, and building relationships with his students, easier. “It really opened my eyes to some new instructional opportunities,” he says.

Neal, who was named Arizona Teacher of the Year for 2019, shared this experience with educators and community leaders during a webinar offered this week by Learning Heroes and Remake Learning Days Across America. It’s the first in a free series of six webinars for educators and parents offered throughout the spring.

Along with Sarah Brown Wessling, former National Teacher of the Year and current interim director of the CCSSO National Teacher of the Year program, Neal dove into the subject of school-home partnerships — why it matters, how COVID has impacted it, and what resources and approaches can help strengthen this vital connection.

Early in the webinar, David Park, Learning Heroes’ senior vice president for strategy and communications, shared data highlighting why direct engagement between teachers and families is so important.

According to the nonprofit’s research, educators rank regular communication with teachers as the number one way for parents to know if their child is achieving. For parents, report card grades top the list, but 48% of teachers say report cards measure effort more than achievement.

Eighty-five percent of parents also say their children got A’s and B’s on their report cards, perhaps part of the reason more than nine in ten parents (92%) believe their child is at or above grade level in reading and math.

Still, Park said that parents are “leaning into their child’s education given their experience with remote learning,” saying they would now be more likely to get a better understanding of what their child is expected to learn in the new grade, find more time to talk to their child about homework, seek a better understanding of where their child is academically, or develop stronger relationships with their child’s teacher.

So while COVID has truly challenged parents, the increased levels of family engagement it has inspired might lead to better understanding — and better learning — in the long run.

It can be difficult telling a parent that their child’s mastery isn’t at the level they believe, says Neal. But it’s important to all be on the same page.

One strategy he recommended is for parents and educators to use the Learning Heroes Readiness Check to begin that conversation. The Readiness Check prompts children to complete 3–5 questions in reading and math, and functions more like a game than a test. It was designed by reading and math experts to give parents a gut check about their child’s readiness for the next grade. It also provides grade-level resources to support specific skills at home.

With good communication in place, teachers can let parents know where improvement is needed and parents can share information that might help teachers understand their children better.

To support home-school communication, Wessling pointed out that Learning Heroes’ Ask a Teacher is a great resource. It’s a free video library of brief, actionable responses to questions from parents around the country by CCSSO’s National Teachers of the Year.

When parents ask questions, Wessling says, “a lot of times teachers know the answers they want to say, but they don’t always have the time to put it into words.” One time-saving option is to send parents a link to an Ask a Teacher video, then follow up to discuss it.

Links to Ask a Teacher can also be shared through newsletters to parents or on a classroom website, and can also help educators grappling with how they’ll address a specific issue in a personal conversation with a parent.

No matter how a teacher approaches family engagement, Neal and Wessling both say they hope the communication continues growing in the post-pandemic world. These efforts can lead to a smoother learning experience and better outcomes for kids. Perhaps most important, a strong connection between teachers and parents can show each student that they have a caring team of adults in their corner.

“There are a lot of fears out there right now,” Wessling says. “When we start to really think about our children and what they need, they need the same things they’ve always needed in order to learn. They need to feel safe physically, emotionally, cognitively. They need to know that they have advocates.”

In the months since COVID-19 began, “those things haven’t changed,” she says. “But they most certainly have become highlighted for us.”

Get connected to more family engagement resources and find the “What can we learn from parents? Ushering in a new era of family engagement” webinar here.

And be sure to join us for upcoming webinars for educators and parents:



Learning Heroes

Learning Heroes serves to inform and equip parents to be advocates for their children and best support their academic, social, and emotional development.