Although we had the option of selecting hybrid learning at our children’s school, my wife and I elected remote learning for our three children; a third grader, a kindergartener, and a preschooler. We decided to minimize the risk of any of our children catching Covid-19.
While we are all-in on supporting our students during this point in their education journey, balancing full-time work and the myriad of Zoom calls throughout the day and assisting with schoolwork is no walk in the park. As an educator, I recognize that this is not easy for my colleagues in the classroom, either.
Having spent time on both sides of the divide, I have empathy for all parties. Maybe because I work in education, I am privy to conversations amongst educators who struggle with parents who may not appear to be the most active or invested in their child(ren)’s education. I used to feel that way, particularly prior to becoming a father.
Since I’ve had children, however, I recognize the strain on parents grasping for more time, where there is none, to spend with their children absent the constraints of mandatory obligations such as work or school. This may be a shock to some folks, but remote learning isn’t necessarily the most fun. For some families, it is actually stressful, particularly families with younger students.
Some families may be less technologically savvy. Others may be without the Wi-Fi speed to make the remote learning experience seamless; some may be without Wi-Fi altogether. Some students may be less engaged because they are in front of a computer or chromebook as opposed to in a classroom.
This isn’t to say that parents with middle and/or high school students have it any easier. However, their challenges are different.
Thankfully, there are some things that teachers and school leaders can do to ease the tension felt by parents and students who are doing the best to make the best out of a situation beyond their control and not of their own making.
Limit online meetings to no more than two per day; or limit meeting times to 30 minutes a meeting. My 3rd grader has four to five zoom meetings a day. By the 3rd meeting, he’s spent, and so are his classmates. Maybe it’s because the meetings are 45 minutes to an hour long. I’m not opposed to multiple daily meetings, but the time limit should be reasonable. Four to five meetings 45 minutes to an hour may sound good in theory, but it’s not practical. Either schedule four to five meetings for 20 to 30 minutes or have two to three (best if only two) meetings for an hour. Their screen time is already maxed; no need to exhaust them to the point of disengagement. With younger students, especially, sometimes less is more.
Leave a 60 to 90 minute window open in the middle of the day open for lunch and recess. There’s no imperative to maintain a remote lunch and recess schedule similar to an in-person one built around school building logistics such as limited cafeteria seating or playground space. Students are home. Like it or not, they’re eating and snacking according to their own schedule— or that of their working parents. If a parent is working from home and takes lunch at 12:30 p.m., it makes sense for students to take it then also. It makes less sense to schedule a zoom at that time.
Pre-record lessons for kindergarteners and preschoolers and limit meetings to two days a week. I get the desire to make school as normal as possible for the youngest students—to keep the experience authentic to the building. But it is not. It’s also presumptuous to not provide a laptop or chromebook to those students and then expect that they’re able to participate in scheduled Zoom meetings. A safer move is for teachers to create lessons on videos or their own YouTube page wherey parents can access lessons at their disposal (within a reasonable timespan to turn in work). This would support parents who cannot focus on remote learning for long periods of time during the day and can do so best when off the clock. This strategy also helps older students also. Zoom meetings can be used for assessing student learning from those pre-recorded lessons.
Preload laptops/chromebooks or USB drives with course texts and/or assignments. There is work that students should handwrite. However, there are assignments and texts that should be offered electronically that minimizes the materials students (and parents) are responsible for. If pdfs are made fillable documents (which they can be), it makes transmission of these documents from students to teachers a bit easier and safer compared to taking pictures of work and emailing it.
Reserve one day a week for students to get caught up on work they’ve missed during the week. A goal of all school districts should be that no student falls behind on their work. More than ever, these times require that grace be offered to educators, students and parents alike. This is a great opportunity to provide it to parents and students.
These tactics won’t make remote learning perfect, but they can help parents, students, and educators journey through the school year with compassion and common sense.
Rann Miller is a PhD candidate at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He spent six years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog.