A Plea to Parents Post COVID-19
Parents, you are a witty group. Your rants on Twitter, your memes on Facebook and your photos of your homeschooling disasters on Instagram keep me laughing in a time when it’s hard to find much to laugh about. But please know: this school leader, and many others, see beyond your attempts to keep yourselves intact as you skyrocketed through the ranks of education and got promoted from teacher to Superintendent of your “home district” in about four weeks. It’s not easy work, is it?
What lessons are you taking from your newfound role? I’m going to guess many! Let’s take a look:
“Day one of homeschooling. How do I get a student transferred out of my class?” Relationships matter! Kids learn from and with people they like. All kinds of people - not just their classroom teachers. Notice who your kids talk about when they talk about things they like to do. Is it your neighbor with the dog, the family butcher on Central Street, the baseball coach who is a police officer for his “real job”? Anyone who shares an interest with your kid is a teacher, and anyone who makes your kid feel good about themself is likely going to inspire learning.
One thing is certain, your kids' teachers really do care about them as people, and it shows now more than ever. This very abrupt abandonment of a shared physical space and a rigid set of academic learning goals and standardized tests has given teachers the freedom to work on things that are the reason they became teachers in the first place. They want to know how their students and families are doing, and they are really wondering what things are like right now for the kids in their care. Remind teachers of that care when we get back.
“Of all the things I learned in grade school, how to avoid cooties was the last one I expected to use.” Relevance, relevance, relevance! People learn about and work hard at things that are relevant to them. I’m going to guess that your kids might not be finding a whole lot of relevance in those worksheets being sent by teachers. Do they keep your kid busy for a little while? Maybe. But what really matters right now? What matters to your family? To your kids? To your neighbors? To your community? To the world? What if that was the driver of your child’s education from here on out?
We’re putting a pause on standardized testing here in Massachusetts, and that is likely to be a trend as more schools are making decisions about the end of 2019-2020 school year. Hmmm … since we’re not teaching to the test, what do we teach? Let’s keep that one simple - young people are experts in exposing things that they believe are wrong. They see unfairness and injustice everywhere. In the project based learning environment I lead we used to think about it like this: 1) What problem do you want to solve? 2) What do you need to learn and be able to do to solve it? 3) Who can help you acquire that knowledge and those skills?
When we get back, ask your child’s teachers about relevance. Help teachers think of those skills they are teaching not for success on a test, but as tools to solve a problem. Now more than ever we need problem solvers. Remind teachers of that need when we get back.
“Does teaching my kid to mix my cocktail count as math or science?” Well, that depends. If we’re trying to learn ingredients, then that's fractions and thus: math. If we’re trying to learn about how alcohol is made (and if it can be used as hand sanitizer), then definitely chemistry. Let’s not forget those vocational culinary skills, too. Every learner gets to take what they need from the learning experience and deepen their understanding. That is rigor.
It breaks my heart to hear people wondering about how kids are going to “catch up” when they get back to school. Rigor is not a set collection of skills or knowledge. Rigor is not a bar to be reached or demonstrated on a standardized test. Rigor is a journey. Rigor is meeting every child where they are, and helping them move forward in their skills and knowledge in pursuit of solving problems that are important and relevant to them and their community.
This might be the hardest lesson to hang on to when we get back, but now is our chance to reframe our thinking on this one. Be creative and persistent in reminding teachers of the lessons your child is learning at home. Have some examples of your child learning something that was important to them during this time ready to share. Keep erasing those walls of the school building that try to separate learning from life. Remind teachers to meet your child right where they are, and thank them for helping your child move forward in a meaningful way.
You are all doing great, no matter what it looks like. Remind teachers of that when we get back.
Oh, and congratulations on your promotion!