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Online parent-teacher interviews during COVID-19: a welcome change for many parents

Case Study: St Andrew’s Anglican College

For St Andrew’s Anglican College, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of ideas and changes the 1,300-student school had been “tinkering away” with for some time.

One of those was parent-teacher interviews.

During the home learning period, the Sunshine Coast Prep-Year 12 college conducted its interviews online using Microsoft Teams. Parents used the school’s familiar booking system and then jumped on their student’s laptop when it was time to meet – sometimes with their sons or daughters present, sometimes without.

College Principal Reverend Chris Ivey says he didn’t realise how warmly parents would embrace a different approach.

“We had much higher engagement from parents who don’t normally attend because of the travelling time to get to the school or because of work commitments interstate,” Rev Ivey says.

The school also attracted more parents to their informal “Conversations with the Principal” when these fireside chats on topical school-based issues moved online.

For secondary parents – who tend to be less involved in their child’s learning because of their child’s independence – the college saw a lift in parent interactions.

“Parents who were home could watch their children actually learning – for some parents the experience reversed perceptions they may have held about their child’s application to their school work. They could also connect more easily with teachers. There was greater visibility of learning,” Rev Ivey says.

Adaptation came quickly

Like teachers and students, Rev Ivey says parents who were not adept at using the school’s online learning portals and platforms were forced to familiarise themselves quickly.

“It was a good learning curve for many parents. The learning management system we use enabled parents to jump on and check in to see the work students are set which gave them the chance to ask their children specific questions about different subjects and areas of study,” he says.

Maintaining school-family relationships and connections was a priority for St Andrew’s during the lockdown period. College staff regularly checked in on their students and families as part of their wellbeing focus.

“We take great pride in being a relational school that encourages and nurtures connections between students, teachers and parents and we wanted to continue to strive for this in the online space,” Rev Ivey says.

School in regular contact with families

Parent Sue Wilkie agrees, saying the lines of communication between parents and teachers were always open – parents were “never left in the dark”.

“During this time a mentor was provided to both my son and our family where a teacher rang us to check not only on my son’s welfare but our welfare as well, Amazing!”

Ms Wilkie says the college’s online learning approach had directly resulted in her Year 9 son “becoming a more independent, motivated learner who has learnt resilience and patience.”

The college’s health and fitness champion, Head of Sport Steve Robson, also ensured the entire school community – students, staff, parents and alumni – kept active and healthy.

Mr Robson developed a range of activities to keep the community motivated and moving, including the St Andrew’s Challenge. Each school day he posted a new video on the college’s social media channels challenging the community to complete an activity, such as doing a set number of burpees, body squats or star jumps, undertaking netball or basketball drills and making healthy snacks.

“Students and parents motivated each other,” he says.

This enthusiasm and drive continued through the college’s annual cross country carnival which the college held virtually over a six-week period starting from the end of Term 2.

Children and parents reconnecting

Rev Ivey says one of the positives to come out of the home learning period was the quality time some families spent together.

“Often when I rang in to check on a student they’d tell me what they were doing for their wellbeing, like going for a walk or run with mum or a surf with dad. That was really great to see – parents getting to reconnect and build their relationships with their children,” Rev Ivey says.

“It’s important with face-to-face teaching and learning now back in full swing that we all continue to find time for those unscheduled moments to be together.”

Just as schools and parents were forced to find new rhythms and routines during the home learning period, the transition back to on-site learning in classrooms also presented its challenges.

However, there were some unexpected silver linings, according to Rev Ivey, including the development of more independent and resilient primary students.

Socially distanced drop-off routine a silver lining for some families

Rev Ivey says the new drop off and pick up procedures, which limit parents coming onto school grounds, have meant students – particularly those in the younger primary years – have had to take responsibility for things their parents would have ordinarily done for them.

“I was concerned this would be a difficult transition, however interestingly some parents told us they appreciated not feeling that perceived pressure of having to walk their child into the school every day, particularly if they were on their way to work,” he says.

However, the college is mindful of the importance of maintaining the connection between parents and creating opportunities for introductions and interactions, particularly for new parents who joined the college over the home learning period.

Rev Ivey says the college is committed to continuing their journey of change and transformation.

“We are very committed to not switching off the past few months and reverting back to what we’ve always done. That’s the exciting part now, what do we do next?”