Great Public Schools

Work with Families for Better Outcomes

By Deb Bufton

2nd Grade Teacher, Wilkes Elementary School, Reynolds Education Association

I teach 20 very squiggly, wiggly 7- and 8-year-old students and the thought of teaching them online was a bit disconcerting at first. Who would make sure they were paying attention? Who would support them when it was time for them to try something new? Because new things are hard sometimes and my students sometimes react to new things with challenging behaviors. How exactly will this work?

I really wasn’t quite sure how I would make distance learning work for my 2nd graders. So, I took an extra week to think about it and finally, rolled up my sleeves and dove in. I started distance learning with a one-hour live class session. Well, I bet a lot of people had a similar first experience to my first live session. Students and parents spent the entire time trying to log in and figure out what we were doing. It was nuts!

I wanted the next session to be successful, so I took all the sample schedules and explanations I was going to do during the live lesson and drove them to families’ houses to drop off materials with no contact. I used the translation feature of the Remind app, which our district uses, to translate the directions for families. There are 5 or 6 different home languages represented among the families of my students. The next live session went much better. Families had their sign in information and knew what to expect.

It made a huge different to get information into families’ hands in their native language. This gave them time to read the information when they had time rather than a prescribed time when I was available. I would encourage more districts to make it possible to send this kind of information to families.

I also delivered cinch sacks of school supplies to families. I was fortunate to receive a Donors Choose grant of $1,000 very early in the closure. The sacks included pens, pencils, crayons, tape, glue – all the things young students need to do their schoolwork. I also included a Lego bricks, which we use for math manipulatives, and educational games and books. The district has since been able to make additional supplies available for students and families but in those first weeks, I wanted to make sure my families felt secure, knew what was going on, and didn’t feel abandoned.

Students will experience these school closures differently based on their age level. Primary grades (kindergarten through 2nd grade) are different from upper elementary. Sixth grade is different from the rest of middle school. High school is different in new ways. We would never do the same thing for a kindergarten student and a high school senior, or vice versa. There is no ONE answer to solve the dilemmas of distance learning.

The people that know students the best are their teaches and their families. We should join with families to find out what they can do and combine that with what we know we can do. Trust your training and work with families to find the best possible outcomes for them and their children. That is all anyone can do right now.

It made a huge different to get information into families’ hands in their native language. This gave them time to read the information when they had time rather than a prescribed time when I was available.

Tools to Share


I am finding it easier to differentiate for reading. I use a variety of subscription services that my district has provides access to. These sites allow students to engage at the right level and even access audio books. I use Reading Eggs, Newsela, and Epic!. I encourage teachers to take advantage of the subscriptions their districts have right now to provide a variety of options to their students.