Remote Learning Insights:
Family & Teacher Support
Yes, It Does Take A Village
In as much as, “it takes a village to raise a child,” the same also could be said that it takes an entire community to successfully navigate the world of remote learning.
As schools closed this Spring, nutrition and technology support for all students and families were clearly top priorities. We agree these two challenges continue to be priorities and have only increased as communities continue to struggle with high unemployment numbers and a lagging economy.
There are many organizations working with districts to find solutions to these challenges and we don’t we have a ton of additional insight to add to that part of the conversation. Instead, we will focus on the next tier of concern: supporting students, parents, and teachers with the challenges of remote learning once their basic survival needs have been met.
There is no one size fits all solution to student and family support. Different communities have different needs, and no one is more aware of that than teachers. We can’t solve all the problems in a simple article, but here are some strategies that seem to be universally helpful.
Students Benefit Greatly from Regular, Real-Time Interactions with Their Teachers
These interactions could be in small groups or 1 to 1, online or by phone. The important element in this is that the interaction isn’t a lesson delivery or direct instruction, but a time for students and teachers to check in with each other. This check-in can take different forms—e.g., a casual conversation, sharing an interesting story, or asking questions about schoolwork—and serves to strengthen the student-teacher relationship that is important for academic learning and social-emotional development.
Students Need Time to Collaborate (i.e., Hang-Out) with Their Classmates
Peer interactions are important for students of all ages but especially so at the elementary level when social and emotional learning curves are steep. Under a learning paradigm where limited classroom time is best suited for direct instruction (see Part 1 of this series on Technology to further explore this statement), it is important that virtual time be as collaborative as possible. Not only does this foster higher student engagement (See Part 2 of this series on Student Engagement), but it also helps to address the mental well being of students by reducing feelings of isolation, as well as developing a sense of comradery that naturally develops in an in-person classroom. The instructional content of these “hang-out” times is less critical than the actual act, and can be a simple as a virtual recess or a 15-minute group dance party, or a bit more structured like an group invention challenge or collaborative story.
Parents Overwhelmingly Appreciated Consistency and Simplicity
We heard from several parents who indicated that a regular schedule for communication and real-time sessions was extremely helpful for them—even if the scheduled time meant they needed to rearrange part of their day. Placement of a high value on predictability extended to a preference for the fewest number of online locations for educational assignments, meetings, etc.
Parents Prefer Regular Communication from Their Child’s Teacher
While it is unreasonable to expect teachers to answer parent phone calls or emails immediately, setting, and sticking to, clear expectations for when emails can be expected to be answered can alleviate unnecessary stress on both ends.
Supporting Our Teachers
This past Spring many teachers felt pulled in multiple directions as their days filled up with various planning and re-planning meetings, technology trainings, and, of course, navigating the abrupt change from teaching students in-person to teaching remotely.
There is no way of getting around the fact that this forced switch to blended learning takes considerable planning, training, and effort to master. As teachers strive to do their best with the resources and time available, here are some ways we can help them.
Give Teachers Some Flexibility in Delivering Their Craft
Teachers are trained to teach. Elementary teachers especially are trained to determine the unique academic and emotional skills their students need to develop. The lessons they create and deliver are designed to support their students along that path. This reality isn’t changed because learning is moving online. Rather, it becomes even more important. Although the inclination to push out a uniform set of lessons to all teachers is appealing, it ties their hands and undermines their ability to adapt what they are doing to best serve their students. Of course, different teachers will thrive with different levels of lesson support, so we suggest working with your teachers to determine the level of guidance and support that works best for them.
To the Extent Possible, Give Teachers Planning Stability
We understand that suggesting stability in a time of great uncertainty is a bit audacious. Nevertheless, we are suggesting it with good reason. At some point, responding to ever-changing conditions sees diminishing returns, as well as an inability to conduct longer-term planning. This leaves lessons disjointed and disconnected, and it takes a significant toll on teachers and students. We suggest taking a more conservative approach to your planning. Assume remote learning will last longer and/or will constitute a larger percentage of teaching time. It is much easier to adjust to more in-person time than to less. This mindset, coupled with the additional flexibility suggested above, empowers teachers to put lessons and strategies into place that leverage their skills and enable them to best serve their students.
Streamline Administrative and Planning Meetings
There is no denying that the current teaching paradigm requires a higher level of coordination among teaching teams and between teachers and administrators. In fact, with all we are asking of educators they need to lean on and learn from each other. However, administrative and planning meetings can be a significant time and energy drain. Throughout the spring, many teachers reported that they spent more time in meetings than working with their students or on student lessons. To help with meeting efficiency make sure meetings have outlined agendas, desired outcomes, and clearly stated time allocations. Ideally, make sure attendees have all this information in advance so they can prepare accordingly and be ready for a productive discussion.
- Students benefit from real-time interactions with both their teachers and their classmates. This should be collaborative time (versus direct instruction) and is critical to support students’ social and emotional development as well as their overall mental well being.
- Parents need consistency. The demands on parents from all sides is unavoidable. However, we can reduce parents’ mental load by establishing regular routines (lesson time, class time, responding to emails/calls, etc.) and simplifying online interactions (e.g., retrieving and submitting assignments).
- In most cases, the classroom we are all familiar with will extend beyond the physical space. Teachers need some space, flexibility, and support to establish their in-person and remote classrooms. If given the opportunity, they will adapt. Let’s make sure we give them that opportunity.