Wake County Public School System ended the 2019-2020 school year virtually and will soon be kicking off a new one in the same manner. Yet with only 2 paid workdays prior to the start of the virtual school year, teachers are working hard in preparation. They are aiming to get to know students, partner with families and create a positive virtual learning environment.
No matter the age of your children, there are several ways parents can help set both teachers and students up for success.
1. Connect with your child’s school teacher.
Every family situation will be unique this year and teachers need your help to be aware of ways they may be able to help your child as a result. A point made clear by Stephanie Folan, a special education teacher at Wake County Public Schools. “Parents have different levels of what they can do” to support their child(ren)’s learning at home. After schools closed March 13th, Stephanie only saw some students two additional times before the year concluded.
A challenge teachers can empathize with, as plenty are in the same boat.
Some parents, myself included, will be working from home alongside children and significant others, and ttempting to guide multiple children of various ages through virtual school assignments. All while trying to balance household needs, family meals and mental well-being.
As this year may be lacking the typical in-school orientation, reach out to your child’s teacher or home school classroom to get the scoop. If your child is old enough, ask them to reach out ahead of time.
Social distancing may have us apart, but human connection is essential. Establishing a true bond between teacher and student virtually will be challenging. “Almost impossible,” according to Stephanie. Wake County Middle School teacher, Maurine Maul agrees with the need for a relationship, “What I love most about teaching is getting to know the kids.” The shared relationship and respect between student and teacher creates a desire to learn, to listen and to adhere. When we feel connected to someone, we have a deeper desire to do right by them. We feel disconnected, it may make very little difference to the student whether they show up or not.
Technology may have its drawbacks, yet when it comes to the ability to have virtual discussions face-to-face, we can all be grateful. One tool Maurine has found invaluable is FlipGrid. A video storytelling tool her students can use to share introductions or rather their opinion on a recent assignment. All within the format of a personalized video.
Help start the year off right by establishing a connection early on.
2. Map out a plan.
Work with your child to create a schedule. From Maurine’s experience, “older kids need support in responsibility in assignments.” In many cases, school work was not graded this past spring, a change resulting in a lackadaisical approach by students. This year, however, schools are finding new ways to measure both presence and effort.
Families can work together to create a family calendar. Depending on their age, you may ask them to take the lead on this initiative. Pick out a new paper planner to decorate or spell things out using an online calendar enabling you to sync parent and child schedules. For children with smart phones, set digital reminders while also setting phones to ‘do not disturb‘ during classroom hours.
Maurine may go so far as to ask her young new driver to wake up and drive somewhere (Perennial coffee? Thanks a latte!). Not only will this add a dash of excitement to the routine, it will also get students up and ready for a day of learning.
Parenting younger children? Establishing a weekly routine will be essential. Even if it varies by child. Team up to draft a family agenda to post in a central location. Include basics such as reading, teacher calls, recess and screen-time. Some children will be more on board than others, but when you work together to build the schedule and consistently adhere, the routine will become the new normal. Plan to follow up weekly or bi-weekly in a family meeting to discuss what is (or is not) working.
3. Get tech-savvy.
Get to know the apps and websites students are using. Better yet, ask your children to give you the rundown. Doing so not only gives them a confidence boost, it may also open the door to insightful conversation about how class is going. In my case, such conversations has led to a greater understanding of the challenges posed by the virtual setting. One devoid of true structure and peer interaction.
Taking a moment to sit side-by-side as children work through their virtual assignments, may even teach you a thing or two. Seriously, when was the last time you practiced long division?
Tools such as Brain Power, ABC Mouse and Google Classroom were made available to schools at no charge during a time when schools were thrust into a virtual situation. The question, Maurine would like to know? Will they still be free? Thankfully, the answer seems to be yes. Great news for schools working with limited budgets.
4. Hold your child accountable.
This is where the calendar comes into place. Pay attention to when students have class times and hold them accountable to show up. While parents may not be able to nudge students for every single call, the extra reminder will be beneficial now and again.
“Teachers feel more invested when kids are invested,” insight from Maurine Maul. Maurine held virtual Google Classrooms for 120 plus students with incredible success and consistent attendance, whereas other teachers defined success when even half of the students logged on.
Surely the fact that students will once again be graded will add the extra incentive necessary.
5. Offer grace in this new school normal.
Parents, teachers and students can work together to find the necessary structure and balance needed for each family situation.
Change is hard. But as famed author Glennon Doyle-Melton reminds us, “we can do hard things.” One day at a time.
Let’s start by returning the human touch to this virtual school year.