These are challenging times for students, educators and parents alike, with a rapidly changing education landscape to navigate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, schools are open for the children of essential workers and almost all schools have now made the transition to online or distance learning or a combination of both.

My school made the move early and quickly. An advantage of being an independent school was that we didn’t need to wait for the bureaucracy to flag systemic shifts. Therefore, we have a few more weeks of experience in this process, so what have we learnt from our staff, our students and our parents and what can you do as parents to support your children at home?

What teachers have learnt:

  • Daily contact with their students is essential. It helps students maintain their engagement with the subject, with their teacher and with their class. This contact is best done through short video chats.
  • A structured timetable with access to diverse and interactive online tools and educational subscription services is really important.
  • A mechanism is needed to be able to easily check student understanding - this has been done through quizzes, video Q&As, sidebar chat rooms or through email. 
  • Noting what is core compulsory work and what is optional extension work for students is helpful. This supports all learning needs in the virtual classroom.
  • Clear communication with parents and students is also essential and even more important at this present time. 

What students want:

  • Social interactions with their peers - they miss their classmates.
  • A structured timetable. Students prefer the structured class time as long as there are scheduled breaks so they can chat with their friends on social media or go for a walk outside.
  • Regular feedback from their teachers. Students are looking for positive reinforcement and redirection to ensure they are covering the material in an effective way.

What parents want:

  • To find the class information in one place so they can support their child’s learning. Just an email trail is not effective for parents. They need a single access portal.
  • A weekly overview from primary teachers so they can help plan their class time.
  • Access to what the students see online. Parents see this as essential.
  • A structured timetable with breaks built in. Parents want a routine as this helps settle the house.
  • To know when to say that is enough school work or conversely you finished that quickly how about this extension task. Parents want to know what is core and what is extension work.
  • Adding family chores or activities to the timetable. Parents appreciate the human touch of adding family time and responsibilities into the day. 
  • More regular contact with the teacher - maybe a fortnightly reach out in some format e.g. a Zoom for parents, an email hour. I don’t recommend Whatsapp or Facebook groups at this stage. 
  • Access to the school’s Library and technology services for borrowing resources. It is essential that all schools offer these services to parents. 
  • No extra homework. The day is now homework so after school homework is no longer a priority for students, parents or teachers. 

Our parents recommend you ensure your children have:

  • A quiet space free from distractions e.g. asking them to set aside materials they don’t need for learning (e.g. phones and other digital devices not required for learning).
  • Stationary items required for that lesson, including pen, paper and calculator as well as the device. Note paper is also useful for the students to stretch their thinking.
  • Regular breaks for 5 minutes outside if possible between each lesson.
  • Family time to do baking, some family exercise outside, board games and jigsaw puzzles have also made a comeback during non-school times.
  • Going back to having dinner at the table has helped share the successes of the day and builds children up for their next homeschooling day.
  • Take the school work out of the bedroom if possible and put it in a common room, the dining room table or a shared space in the garage. 
  • Exercise in the morning before school lessons start. 
  • Don’t stress. Take some time out if you need it as a parent. The children are more productive if the house is organised and calm.
  • Touch base, check-in often and summarise achievements at the end of the day. Parents are suggesting that positive reinforcement is essential. Focus on the achievements, not the issues to keep them motivated.
  • Use free assisted technology to help where you can e.g.
  • Still pack the lunchbox in the morning as normal. This ensures the children aren’t eating too much junk food. 
  • Use a free wellbeing check-in app such as GreenX7 to track focus, connection, energy and mood
  • Be creative. Create or build something to channel their energy into positive outcomes. This will help children focus during long days and provide a fun reward.

Online or Distance Learning is new to most families and it is new to schools as well. Remember that the role of the parent is not to replace the teacher in learning from home. Your role is rather more like that of the teaching assistant or the integration aide. Support where you can and contact the teacher if you are struggling. We will get through this unusual time together with trust, patience and a little understanding. 

Nick Johnstone