In March 2020, education as we have known it was completely turned upside-down. Educators and students of all ages have had to adapt to distance learning. This has not been an easy challenge, as we all have different levels of academic ability, of technological access and understanding, different ways of teaching and learning, and the need for different types of support. Educators have had to adjust their methods of instruction, often through trial and error as they find what works and what doesn’t. Students have had to figure out how to do their learning in a home environment and with less contact with their teachers. And throughout all of this, parents have had to learn how to support their children and fill in the gaps left by distance learning. This has been an overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting experience for many of us.
So how do we navigate this difficult time? Two major components are teamwork and communication. It is now more important than ever for parents and educators to work together to support education. Teachers need to be very clear to both students and parents what is expected of them and what resources are available to them, as well as providing clear feedback. Parents need to communicate with teachers about any problems or concerns they and their children are having, as well as letting them know what is working. Students need to do the work that is asked of them and they need to reach out for help from parents and teachers when it is needed. Teachers need feedback to help them to understand why their instruction may or may not be working so that they can change it to better meet the needs of students and families. There needs to be an ongoing conversation between students, parents, and educators to help guide all of us through this experience.
This is a time when teachers really need to think outside the box. As traditional teaching methods are no longer an option, teachers need to be extra creative in finding ways to reach out to students and help them. This may be easier for some than others, especially for those who are more technologically able and those who teach in districts whose students have sufficient access to technology. It could be very beneficial to look for online training for the platforms that the schools are using, such as Google Classroom. It can help to see what other teachers have tried, whether it is the colleagues at your school or tips that other teachers have posted online. There is no one right answer and no one best way to do things. Teachers need to determine what is needed for their specific situation.
Parents now need to be even more involved in their children’s learning. They need to create an area at home for children to do their schoolwork without distractions and set up new rules about doing schoolwork at home which is very different from was acceptable for homework time. They may need to learn the technology that their children are using to make sure that assignments are being completed and turned in appropriately. And they may not know how to do the work that their children have been assigned. This is when it is especially important for parents to reach out to teachers for help. They may need to find a different way for students to complete assignments if they do not have access to the internet. Teachers are available to help when a student is struggling with an assignment. While it can feel to parents like they are teaching their kids in isolation, teachers are there to help.
Interestingly, some students have actually flourished with distance learning because they no longer have the distractions that come with a class full of students. They are no longer confined to the structure and pacing of a regular school day and are benefiting from the lack of extracurricular activities because they have more time to focus on their studies. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many children. They need the structure and support of a traditional classroom, and they have been struggling to keep up. Some students work well independently, while others are struggling to get organized. They may need quite a bit of positive reinforcement, help keeping track of their work and making a schedule, or even to have a parent sit with them to get through a lesson. Parents have to figure out what works best for each child.
This may be an especially difficult time for students with special needs (and their parents!) as the accommodations that were in place at school may no longer be available. A student may have had anything from extra time to complete tests as required in their 504 plan to a one-on-one aide for the entire day while in a class just for those with special needs. While teachers are able to differentiate their instruction to provide additional support, the education that these students would have received in school is very difficult to replicate. This puts a lot of responsibility on parents to try to help their children. This will vary greatly depending on what each child’s needs and abilities may be. Parents and teachers will need to work together to find new ways to meet these needs.
It is also important to consider students who are gifted or twice-exceptional. They may need to be challenged in their instruction above and beyond what their classmates are doing, just as they would in a classroom setting. Educators need to continue to differentiate their instruction, which becomes even more difficult when teaching online. There are many resources made available by Gifted and Talented Associations on how to meet the needs of these students, as well as ways that these students can enrich their own educations.
Academics aside, a child cannot be successful if he or she is struggling with their mental and emotional well-being. Parents and teachers need to be constantly on the lookout for signs that a child needs help. It may be anxiety, depression, or something else, but it needs to be recognized and dealt with so that the child is able to continue to learn and grow. Adults may also need help mentally adjusting to all of the recent changes. Many school districts have made their counselors available to help support families and staff. Many psychologists are also providing services via telemedicine, so they are able to communicate over the phone or using video chats in order to observe social distancing practices.
Throughout all of this frustration, the most important things are to stay positive and remember that you are not alone. Although you may feel cut off from everyone else and like you are doing this on your own, there is still a whole world of people and resources available to to help you.