How Do Parents Relate to Teachers and Staff in an Online School?
Wondering just how parents relate to teachers, staff, and administration in a virtual learning environment? One of our Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinators, Cindy Dingeldein, shares her insight into how she, as well as other parents, connect with the school in a cyber charter school!
We as parents want to know that we can relate to our child’s teachers, so that we can work together on behalf of our student.
The same is true for families considering a cyber education. Are teachers accessible and approachable? What relationship can we have together? Will my child be successful, and/or is this style of communication similar to what I have experienced in a more traditional educational setting?
In this post I’ll explain how this type of communication takes place in a virtual setting, and share my experiences as a cyber charter parent.
Our family took full advantage of teacher interaction while my daughter attended a cyber school. Teachers were always ready to speak with me – whether through phone, email, a video call or the face-to-face setting offered by school outings. All along our educational journey, we found teachers both accessible and approachable by parents and students alike. I actually learned when to initiate needed conversation.
Teachers outline expectations in their weekly plans, on their course pages (typically found on a centralized platform), and through email to parent and student. In addition, parents serving as Learning Coaches (depending on the cyber school) can sit in on classes and hear directly the classroom expectations. These are all proactive approaches to communicate with families, and then if questions arise, the usual modes of communication can be introduced.
One way a cyber school parent can keep abreast of communication is respond to teachers email communication if/when necessary. It is vitally important to read and respond to email daily, as well as having an organizational system to keep information for the future. Gmail makes easy work of this.
Parent-teacher conferences are popular tools in the traditional school setting. Cyber charter schools usually have similar opportunities, but for some, such as PA Virtual, Learning Coaches have teacher contact information from day one and can connect when and if needed. Middle and high school teachers offer office hours on Fridays, which allow students and their Coaches to come into a room (similar to the online classroom), enjoy conversations, and find help when needed.
Some cyber charters also have specific orientation programs for families beginning a year of school. PA Virtual, for example, first connects each family with the Orientation Team and a grade level Orientation Teacher. That same teacher remains available throughout the year in the event a parent would like to continue to connect.
I found similar results from staff communication as friends in other school settings; teachers remembered both students and parents after conversations. We knew our teachers were on our team and wanted success for our student(s).
The Family Support Coordinator
Cyber charters generally have staff members in place, each doing a ‘job’ on behalf of families. Depending on the school, one of the staff members your family will have the opportunity to connect with on ‘all things non-academic’ is your Family Support Coordinator or FSC. Our FSCs at PA Virtual have “organizations” in Blackboard that connect them with parents as soon as orientation!
All of our FSCs contact information is in their organization plus attendance information, and connections to other school staff and organizations. You will find links to outings, orientation, student clubs, service learning, and even a student spotlight!
Early in the school year, our FSCs plan regional back-to-school picnics, where you have the opportunity to meet other families and school staff. This is a great time to connect, learn about the school, and have your questions answered in a face-to-face setting. During the following months, there are several other options for outings across the state. The outings are not required, but are additional points of connection. My family, for example, has many fond memories of school outings and those we met along the way.
You’ll find that, with cyber charter schools, some have special programming to help mentor and shepherd parents and Learning Coaches. Here at PA Virtual, the Parent Ambassador program is staffed by a director, three part-time Regional Coordinators, and a group of statewide volunteer parents who are experienced Learning Coaches.
The Parent Ambassador Program began as a mentoring option, connecting veteran Learning Coaches with first-year families across the state. During subsequent years, the program’s staff and volunteers have developed resources, tips, and tricks to help parents be successful in their daily role as Learning Coaches.
This program also offers two weekly online sessions — Parent Lunch & Learn and New Family Fifteen — and all Learning Coaches are invited. While New Family Fifteen is geared towards our newer community members, veteran parents participate as well! We open the ‘classrooms’ before and after the actual lesson time for parents to have questions answered and connect with one another. These sessions are recorded so if for any reason the ‘live’ time frame doesn’t work for you, you can listen at your leisure. Each one of these sessions looks at an aspect of being a Learning Coach and provides a handout with information for further review.
There are online and live certificate programs which help you help your students. Some of these classes can also assist in securing employment in the future when children have graduated, and your schedule belongs to you again.
A valuable tool in the Learning Coach toolbox is our mentoring program. We match Learning Coaches one-on-one for input throughout the school year by phone, email, and even text. This connection is available either short term or for the entire year.
After one year in the school, Learning Coaches are invited to become volunteers.
School counseling isn’t just for brick-and-mortar schools! Many cyber charters have counselors who help students with academic planning, social/emotional support, college/career readiness, and more. At PA Virtual, we also involve the parent and family as well, helping to ensure student success through multifaceted support. Counselors hold office hours, take students on virtual college tours, and speak on valuable character qualities and skills necessary to be successful after high school.
Some cyber schools also have full administrative staff to support your student’s educational journey. Each of our divisions at PA Virtual — elementary, middle and high — have principals, assistants, program specialists, the aforementioned school counselors, and other support personnel. Parents have access to staff contact information for questions and concerns.
Each school has a Blackboard organization, and if you have a student in the school, you are enrolled in the organization, complete with staff pictures. Announcements, reminders, and other important communications are available at your fingertips. Program Specialists send emails to your parent Gmail account, so you are never without the latest information.
Relating Through Communication Platforms
One of the areas I appreciated most as a parent and Learning Coach was Blackboard. Each cyber charter will have a different primary communication platform, but Blackboard is PA Virtual’s go-to site. Across the top of the main page, you will find three main tabs: News, My Courses, and Our Community.
The News Tab has three main areas of interest:
- Information on whether or not your child has logged in that day. Attendance ✔
- A group of up-to-date vignettes for areas of interest to students
- Technology news
The My Courses tab takes you to a page where you can see:
- School links
- Your student’s classes
The Our Community tab gives you information on many other aspects of our school. Some of this information is found in other areas on Blackboard, but it is definitely an asset to have information on one page.
- Outings & clubs
- Parent Ambassador
- Pupil health
- Special education
- Student records
- PA Virtual Proud
Other areas on Blackboard that are a click away are the:
- Student Handbook
- Quick Reference Guide for Issue Resolution (so you can see who takes your particular question)
- Academic calendar
- Curriculum links
- Links to other school platforms
- School staff contact information
- Tech department
- Notifications dashboard
Reflections on the Cyber School Experience
You’ll find that each online school is a bit different in how they support families. For us Dingeldeins, we found that all of the staff members at our cyber charter school were in the business of helping our daughter succeed. They considered the Learning Coach role to be an asset to the learning process, and I had plenty of options for answers and conversations about my daughter’s education. I even found that the main office in King of Prussia forwarded teacher thank-you notes for parents and students alike! It has been my experience that PA Virtual provides a vigorous online learning environment with ample opportunity for collaboration and connection between staff and families.
When choosing an online school, it’s important to consider what options are in place for parents to relate to teachers and staff in the school. In the end, we’re all in this to help our kids, but you also want a place where you as a parent are valued as well! So find that online environment that nurtures your child’s development and education, and treats you as an important member of the community!
About the Author: Cindy Dingeldein is a former PA Virtual parent and currently works at the school as a Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinator. Her daughter, Lexi, attended PA Virtual for all of grade school, and graduated in 2017.
Images courtesy of Alexandra Koch on Pixabay; and Cindy Dingeldein.