IRIS Center supports parents and children learning remotely with new module


By Jane Sevier

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and businesses suddenly in the spring, parents scrambled to reorganize their daily lives and families. With schools starting up again virtually or in person this fall, families find themselves switching gears once more.

A new self-paced learning unit or module available from Vanderbilt Peabody College IRIS Center, “Parents: Supporting Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” offers suggestions and strategies to cover a wide range of circumstances and student needs for grades PreK–12 as parents search for ways to help meet their children’s learning needs at home.

“In some cases, the shutdown happened over spring break, so students didn’t even have their school books or other materials at home with them,” says IRIS Center Project Director Naomi Tyler, associate professor of the practice of special education. “We approached the content in a way that acknowledged all of the craziness that was happening in parents’ lives, but also, we hoped, with assurances that they didn’t have to suddenly become expert teachers. Realistically, they couldn’t just instantaneously develop the expertise that comes after earning advanced degrees and with years of experience.

“And parents had enough on their plates without trying to take on daily teaching responsibilities as well,” Tyler says. “We showed them they could start small—by simply creating a learning space or just setting one daily routine or only starting with one subject—and then gradually build more over time as they are ready.”

IRIS developed the content in a way that parents could click just on the module pages that were most relevant to them, whether for certain subjects like reading and math or supporting their children socially and emotionally or addressing some of the unique issues for students with disabilities. They also provided links to other free, trustworthy resources.

“Just before the start of the new school year this fall, we updated the content to reflect the realities at that time,” Tyler says. “It was amazing how much had changed in just three months. So, we revised the module to explain things like virtual, face-to-face, hybrid or blended, and offline instruction and how parents can support their child in whichever option their school was engaged in at that particular moment because we’ve also seen how schools have had to pivot from one option to another very quickly.”

In addition to parents’ responses to the module, the IRIS Center has heard from educators who say they are sharing the link with their students’ parents. And teachers themselves are finding helpful information. Here’s a selection of feedback the Center has received:

Thank you for taking the time to create this amazing module! With everything going on right now, and the excessive amount of information overload coming in from all directions, you have successfully managed to create a highly organized, user friendly document to guide everyone in the education system during this difficult time.

  • Will definitely utilize and share with Parent Engagement entities, including Superintendent Special Education Advisory Councils, SPED Stakeholders, PTAs, faith-based learning orgs., legislators and policymakers, as well as proponents of diverse, equitable, inclusive education reform.  Thank you.
  • Wow, you nailed it for those of us who are not very tech savvy. Awesome organization, loved the embedded links, empowering and inspirational, reliable sources. I will be spending more sleepless nights reading and digging in, no time during the day with 1:1 care/teaching.
  • I was really impressed with this module and I referred friends and family to it.  I thought it gave a great picture of what parents should expect of themselves.  I think it is a source that parents will refer to over and over as they experience issues at home.  I wish I had known about it four weeks ago.


“The module has been accessed nearly 20,000 times in the U.S. since April 24, when it initially posted,” Tyler says. “Interestingly, people in 57 other countries and territories have also accessed it. Educators worldwide consistently use IRIS resources, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that parents worldwide are looking for help with many of the same challenges.”

To view IRIS Center’s parents’ module and other resources, visit