By Sandra Love
Educators are going the distance to keep learning moving onward and to build connections while maintaining a high standard of excellence. During this time of planning and delivering a new mode of learning, we must shift our perception to focus on how to best navigate these unusual times.
As educators, it is highly essential that we retain the human element and infuse ways to connect with our partners in distance learning—namely the parents. Several thoughtful tips may be helpful as preparations are ongoing to ensure that learning continues in a quality manner.
We are creating an environment to empower parents and students to be successful. We must look at things differently and encourage parents to support their children in different ways. With any new approach to learning, some children will thrive while others will experience difficulties. Try to remember your main goal is to support each family while facilitating a path to success. Make sure expectations are realistic and are clearly communicated to parents, providing opportunities for parents to reach out for support. Include online opportunities for students to meet with teachers to ask questions and receive support about expectations and assignments. Any new technological support must be explained. Often, the students can explain the systems that are used, however there should also be a backup plan. Encourage parents to be aware of and to help manage the variety of emotions their children might experience. Overall, it is recommended that parents start and end home-based learning routines with engaging conversations coupled with frequent monitoring of progress.
Parents may not be able to sit beside children, even younger ones, the entire time children are working on tasks. To think this will happen is unrealistic. We must be mindful that some parents will have lost their jobs or may have been temporarily laid off, others may be struggling to hold onto their jobs. Some may have more than one child at home, other parents may not have all the technology needed, or family members may need to share technology. There are even parents who are trying to manage their schedules while supervising non-school age children, and so the list can go on and on. It’s up to us to be aware of the diversity within homes so that assignments targeted for home instruction (digital– or print–based) can be planned with all these variables in mind. To achieve an appropriate balance between online and offline learning experiences, it’s important to seek parental and student input to determine what is happening in real time.
Classroom learning that happens in the brick-and-mortar buildings is social, with much interaction. Depending on the school’s expectations and situations in the home, there may be a virtual platform where children can interact. But again, there may be obstacles that cause interaction to be nearly impossible or limited, at best. Either way, it is important that parents be encouraged to give children opportunities to be successful and to process their learning with someone.
Offer parents questioning prompts or tips so they ask about the learning and the expectations of the lesson’s activities or the day’s activities. Clearly state that engagement doesn’t mean that the parent should complete the work—it means engaging their children in back-and-forth conversation exchanges, no matter the age of the child involved. Recommended conversation prompts for parents are: What are your learning targets for this activity? What are you working on? Tell me about your assignment. Show me or explain the steps for this task. How will you know if you have successfully completed a task?
Time spent in distance learning does not have to equal the hour by hour time spent in school on content. This time allotment should be considered by educators and communicated to parents. People are possibly anxiety-ridden and stressed during these uncertain happenings, and this audience includes children and adults. Teachers must consider a variety of factors within the scheduled assignments, such as creative tasks that allow for physical activity. While structure is necessary, so is flexibility in tasks and choice in activities. Also, remember to integrate time for reflection or downtime within home-based learning. Help parents see the importance of establishing routines, maintaining certain hours for completing tasks or assignments, and managing workload. As much as possible, parents should keep regular hours for bedtime for their children—whether younger or older.
Invite and give feedback.
Allowance for feedback from parents and students is vital. Inform parents and students about your information gathering methods. This feedback protocol should be communicated in the morning, particularly if parents know that is the designated time for checking in. School personnel cannot take this input personally but constructively use feedback to fine–tune home-based instruction until the delivery mode works for all. Parents communicating by email must keep in mind that many parents are using technology to communicate, so they should ensure that emails are specific and to the point. Comments from children and parents are essential to making necessary adjustments and tweaks, so assure all participants that their feedback is valued by acting on the shared information.
The above thoughts are offered to educators as they work tirelessly to design a different yet effective environment to keep learning active. Consideration of these tips may help educators address emotional needs and build relationships—two critical factors in successfully going the distance with parents and students as partners in home-based learning.
Sandra Love, Ed.D., is the director of education insight and research for Mentoring Minds, www.mentoringminds.com. Founded by teachers, Mentoring Minds provides print resources and an instructional management platform that empower educators to infuse critical thinking skills into standards-based instruction.