In the six weeks since my children’s school paused face-to-face instruction due to the coronavirus, we have all faced a steep learning curve in terms of distance learning. In my previous blog post on this topic, I shared 3 key takeaways about what navigating this new landscape means in my parental role and how vulnerable it’s left me feeling.
As a former teacher, current education consultant, and parent of three school-age kids, I’d now like to share what has worked for me so far on this journey to decrease my feelings of being overwhelmed and set the stage to help with my kids’ learning (and hopefully other kids’ learning as well) to take place for the remainder of the school year. I’ve categorized what has worked for me into the buckets of communication, clarity, and computers – all of which take place within teachers’ unending compassion for students and parents. I’d also like to acknowledge gratitude that my kids benefit from privileges of having computers, internet access, and a quiet space to work, so what works for me may not be feasible for others.
Before I share my three Cs, I’d like to give a shout out to the amazing, creative, and flexible teachers that have been working wonders throughout this crisis. I’m completely indebted to teachers everywhere for continuing to educate children despite so many obstacles.
- We all know that communication between teachers and parents is key to fostering student achievement. During our collective experiment with distance learning, communication has become even more critical. For me as a parent, it’s been helpful when communication home to me has been as simple and direct as is feasible. For example, in emails from teachers and administrators, I’d like to know up front what the purpose is for the message. Is there an action I need to take or is this just an update or a check in?
- I’m especially appreciative when dads are also included in all communication from teachers and schools. I’ve noticed that in many cases, communication tends to default to the mom. With some fathers also working from home, now is an ideal time to ensure they are aware of their children’s school expectations.
- I also find it beneficial when I receive the same messages my children are receiving from teachers. My kids aren’t the best at checking their email, which is the main form of communication from teachers, so including me to the degree possible on communication has helped cut down on their tasks and assignments falling through the cracks.
- One of my kids’ schools provided a schedule template that parents and kids could use to create a weekly synchronous (live) class schedule together. Having a schedule helps me feel a little less powerless in this unexpected situation, and it was especially helpful in establishing a predictable routine for my kids, which in turn decreased their anxiety and increased their focus on schoolwork. I was very thankful that the school provided this template, which saved me from piecing together a schedule from separate communications from each teacher.
- In terms of clarity, I find it works best for my family when teachers have provided one document per week that contains all the information needed for the week. Some teachers are providing a new document per content area daily, which does have its benefits but also adds up to a lot of documents to keep track of on various platforms when there are multiple content areas and multiple kids in a family. Personally, it’s much easier for me to be able to map out the week and work with my child to pace themselves with schoolwork when tasks, assignments, and resources are in fewer places. I realize that due to many demands on teachers, they might not be able to plan for the entire week at once, but I definitely appreciate having a sense of what’s to come when possible.
- It’s been beneficial when some of my kids’ teachers assign all major tasks to be due at the end of a week’s time instead of a different task being due per day or in a couple of days. While I realize it’s important for teachers to be able to check in frequently with students, as a parent I’m making daily checklists for my kids and trying to keep up with my kids’ assignments to ensure they’re not falling too far behind. Also, I realize that there are students who are helping out with childcare for younger siblings and sharing one device with other family members.
- I’ve been greatly appreciative when teachers also allow time over the weekend to complete work. In this way, parents like me who have full schedules during the typical workweek can devote more time to helping with their children’s schoolwork on the weekend.
- Speaking of major tasks, it helps me manage tasks better when teachers share with me which tasks are required and which are optional, since I’m trying to wade through a great deal of new material and prioritize the essential learning. It’s also been helpful when tasks are differentiated for learners who need extra support. For example, my kids have benefited from having word banks and visuals to help them complete tasks more independently.
- The last item that increases clarity for me is when directions are short and simple. I especially love how my seventh grade daughter’s math teacher Ms. Martinez has approached her tasks for the week. She provides all of the materials in one place, but then also records a two-minute video of herself explaining the directions and clicking on the links to demonstrate what to do. This has saved me (and my daughter) so much time. In addition, Ms. Martinez used the transcription feature of her video, so kids who need a little extra support such as English learners or hard of hearing students can follow along more easily.
Shared with permission from Ashley Martinez, Frost Middle School
- While I recognize that many students do not have access to technology and that I’m privileged that my kids do, this last piece speaks specifically to the steep learning curve we’re all going through together. It’s been helpful when teachers shorten long links when possible when sharing them with students and parents. At times, my kids haven’t been able to click on links and get them to work, instead having to manually copy links into a browser. I’ve used bit.ly or tinyurl to create short or even customized links that are easier for us to type in when we need to.
- Also, I’m appreciative when the technology that teachers use is functional, not necessarily pretty. To me, I’m not as interested if what is presented looks nice; my priority is that the technology works and leads to my child learning. (Maybe that’s because I was horrible at creating bulletin boards when I was a teacher!) It’s also great when document sharing permissions are already set up so we don’t have to spend time figuring out how things work and requesting missing information.
- I recognize that some teachers are trying out new platforms to see what works and increase student engagement. I’m finding that my kids tend to work more efficiently when they’re using a smaller number of platforms, which puts them more at ease so they can focus on the content. As a parent, I’m being asked to help my kids figure out several new platforms they’ve never used before (e.g., Flocabulary, Flipgrid, GoFormative). Once they get the hang of the platforms they’ll be able to work more independently.
- The last item that’s helped with the technology is when teachers and administrators provide screenshots to illustrate when there are multiple steps involved to use technology. Like my kids, I’m also a visual learner and have appreciated the extra support.
I’m very appreciative of all the time, initiative, and expertise teachers are dedicating to scaling up distance learning at breakneck speed in the midst of great anxiety over the coronavirus. We have all learned so much over the past few weeks, and we should give ourselves a big pat on the back for all we’re doing together to ensure our kids continue with their education during the crisis. I’m hopeful that some of my 3Cs resonate with you as well. Please thank a teacher for all they are doing for our kids!