Learning at Home in the Time of COVID-19March 23, 2020
Part 1 of a two-part series. An insider’s look from two educators in Lexington, KY.
Let me just say right now that no one is an expert on what we’re experiencing with COVID-19, but teachers are experts in what is best for students when it comes to building strong foundations for learning. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Many teachers and parents are looking for advice and tips on how to continue to provide meaningful learning experiences for students given the unique situation we find ourselves in. Throughout the past few days, I have collaborated with colleagues and racked my brain for ways to explain how teaching and learning can continue in the coming weeks and maybe even months. I put together a few tips on how teachers and parents can work together for the remainder of the school year.
To quote a great philosopher, Kid President: “I think we all need a pep talk.” In order to make it through the COVID-19 education anomaly, teachers and parents alike are going to need to adjust their expectations. Yes, teachers and parents want students to continue learning and actively engaging with challenging material. That doesn’t have to change, but teachers do need to reevaluate what they’re expecting students to do while at home with a million other distractions. In classrooms, teachers face daily distractions like cellphones, goofing off with friends, and disengagement. But at home, students will face annoying siblings and crowded workspaces, not to mention the potential stress of financial hardships or unstable home environments and the many other stressors facing families in this crisis.
Learning is going to feel different for students as they face new pressures, with new expectations. Just like teachers adjust in the classroom when students are struggling with the material, they will also have to adjust what they expect kids to do at home. The bubbles of learning created in classrooms have burst; creating new “bubbles” that require parents and teachers to work together more than ever.
Teachers, at the beginning of every school year and when they return from a break, spend a lot of time setting up expectations. Educators teach things like quiet time, classroom technology expectations, and how to turn in assignments. I hope parents will continue to support students by doing these same kinds of things at home: making quiet hours for work to be completed, setting controls on computers, making sure phones are put away during work time, and making a system for kids to show you what they’ve completed each day. Something as simple as a whiteboard or list for them to check off each class’s daily work can be helpful. Teachers are not asking, nor are they expecting parents to become educators overnight. They’re simply encouraging you to create as positive of a learning environment as possible so that they can continue to provide students with quality, aligned activities that help them meet the learning goals of their grade.
One silver lining is that the gap between teacher and parent communication has the potential to slowly fade. This could be the beginning of a new era in which teachers and parents are communicating weekly, if not daily, about individual student progress. Not just the weekly assignment update, grade checks or behavior emails, but true check-ins about what standards students are mastering and where they are struggling.
Parents – as questions arise, please ask your child’s teacher in real-time. Teachers know that students will have difficult questions as they are grappling with content on their own. They also recognize that many parents are working from home and taking care of other everyday tasks, and that’s okay! Again, parents are not expected to become their child’s teacher, and they don’t have to have all the answers. There are plenty of resources for parents, including many that have daily schedules and additional activities to make good use of students’ time.
I am providing my students with access to a Remind App so that they can text me and let me know they need help. I can then schedule a video chat or create a short video for multiple students if I’m seeing similar questions appear. I plan to invite parents to join so they can see daily communication even if they aren’t working directly with their child.
There are a lot of posts on social media of teachers offering to help out other families with schoolwork. I think that’s absolutely wonderful, but I also want teachers and parents to know that your students will most likely need their own teacher the most. Other teachers can help answer content specific questions and point parents to resources, but when it comes to navigating the digital space, the best helpers will be the teachers who created it.
Parents and teachers are going to have to collaborate in new ways. In my Canvas course for my potential “non-traditional instructional” days I made a short video on how to use Canvas to access my daily agendas and assignments. If I’m being honest, the video wasn’t for my students who’ve been using Canvas every day for 130 days this school year, it’s for the parents who are going to find themselves digging into the coursework and seeing terms that might seem like a new language to them. I can hear parents asking “What’s a module? Where are your pages? What does she mean by formative assessment?” I would encourage teachers to, at the start of your virtual teaching, send home a video or a short email explaining what instruction will be like during these unique days of school.
Teachers, you’re the most adaptable group of human beings I have ever met. Every day you adapt to the changing demands of your schedules, supporting and covering for each other, modifying a lesson midstream and more. Every year you adapt to a new classroom of students, learning their individual interests and needs and incorporating it into your instruction. This year, you’re adapting to the craziness of COVID-19. You got this!
And parents you got this too. You have access to a lot of digital resources, help, and most importantly, the support of your child’s teacher. Teachers need parents to trust them, uplift them and follow their lead. Keep your child’s spirits up. Let teachers know how they can improve and let us know when they’re doing a good job. They will do the same for you! You got this!
Brison Harvey is a Digital Learning Coach at Jessie M. Clark Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky. Prior to becoming a digital learning coach, he served as the Communications and Engagement Manager at the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and taught high school social studies at Lafayette High School in Lexington.
Kari Patrick currently teaches English Language Arts at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington, KY. Kari has taught in both rural and urban schools across the state and was named the 2016 Kentucky Council of Teachers of English High School Teacher of the Year. She loves using passion projects in her classroom to spark student interest and inquiry. Kari is passionate about supporting new teachers and elevating the voice of teachers and students in policy creation.