Tips for “homeschooling” from a school principal
It’s one thing to choose to homeschool your children. It’s another to have it thrust upon you with no warning, while also suddenly trying to work from home, with no hope of field trips or library runs as a release valve. As wise folks have been realizing, this isn’t home schooling. It’s crisis schooling.
That difference isn’t lost on administrators such as Dr. Christopher Small, principal of Augusta Raa Middle School in Tallahassee. It’s not lost on him as an educator, and it’s not lost on him as the single parent of a second-grade son. It’s why he’s encouraging his teachers, students and parents to do their best but also to show generous grace to each other.
“A lot of this, I’m saying to myself as well, as a parent,” Small said. “Take it a little bit at a time, day by day. I’m trying not to overwhelm him while trying not overwhelming myself.”
Some parents may feel like schools aren’t doing enough to continue instruction, while others feel completely overwhelmed by what teachers are asking. No matter what, Small says educators are doing their best to be accommodating and gracious, and they’re going to continue that mindset when students return in person – even if that is next fall. In the meantime, here are Small’s tips for how parents can help their kids negotiate distance learning.
- Reach out to teachers with patience and kindness. At his socioeconomically diverse school, teachers are connecting with most students fairly well but struggling to reach some parents. “Email them and say, ‘Here’s how you can reach me if needed.’ Have that relationship,” he said. When you do connect, keep in mind that teachers are facing their own challenges. Just one example: This sudden shift to distance learning has exposed a digital divide in his staff. Some are already well-versed in online platforms, but others need coaching over the phone over which button to click next on this new software. “Be patient with us,” Small said.
- Offer more support to students. Parents try to nudge their kids toward independence, but current circumstances are forcing students to stretch and grow enough. “Don’t leave them completely on their own,” he said. “Find a way to keep up with what they’re doing. Help them map out a week of what they’ll do when.” (Pro tip: Encourage them to tackle the hardest subjects first.)
- Embrace small routines – and also let them go. Small posts a schedule on his refrigerator so that his 7-year-old knows what to study when. And when the child’s body language shows he’s done, Small concedes. “I say, ‘Go get your tablet,’ — as much as I hate that outlet – ‘Go take a break. You need some time, and Daddy needs some time.”
- Recognize and celebrate the learning that isn’t “assigned.” Small discovered just how motivated his son was to earn little bits of money by doing small tasks. His son put it all in his new, empty wallet, and eventually took a rare trip out with Dad – both wearing masks – to Walmart. “For him, that was a huge feat, finally getting to use his little wallet. And then it was all gone except for two dollars! So now we’re going to have a conversation about that.”
- When in doubt, fall back on recess, the arts, humor and love. Take a break to teach your kids the electric slide. Pick three words at random and make song lyrics out of them. Dig out old photo albums and talk about what the world looked like when the pictures were taken. Have a well-deserved seat in the kitchen and orally guide your kids through each step of making a meal. Remember that not every “lesson” comes from a book. “I feel like we’ve gone back in time in what family structure looks like,” Small said. “Have some conversation there. It’s a great time to tell them, “You are important; you’re special. Be confident in who you are.”
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