Read any school website in any city, province or country and you will find something like: “We work in partnership with parents and extended families to maximize the learning experience of our students”. Traditionally that has meant some combination of regular communication, encouraging parent volunteerism, an open door policy and numerous school community events.
Until the past month, it has never meant “parents we need your active help in teaching our kids”. With its emphasis on remote and virtual learning, education in the age of pandemic has come to redefine the school, family partnership. All of a sudden we have been thrust into a new paradigm. Students stay home, teachers reach out, parents, extended family members, and caregivers help to deliver the goods. This is not what any of us signed up for. The greatest joy in teaching has alway been the daily face to face connection with students. Personal satisfaction coming not from laying on a curriculum, but rather from seeing, first hand, the growth in student knowledge, confidence and productivity that comes with careful and deliberate instruction, support and personal connection.
So how does that play out in the new virtual learning environment? For us it means, as much online face-time as possible. It means regular meetings, office hours, one on one time with a tutor, small group instruction in a virtual classroom. It also means, for the first time for everyone, that families can have a front-row seat in the learning process. No longer is the home school partnership defined by the limits of emails, phone calls, and occasional parent/teacher/tutor meetings. It has become a legitimate team effort in real time. Teachers delivering programme, and families providing emotional support, gauging when their child needs a break, or a snack, or simply to disengage from their screens. It’s not the model that we are used to, and it has totally redefined, perhaps forever, how schools and families define their partnership.
The perennial question, “what did you do at school today?” has been flipped. No longer is it a dinner table conversation where an account of each child’s day is prodded by strategic parental questions. These days it is found in an end of the day chat on Zoom, or Hangouts, or Meeting or whatever other platform teachers are using to connect with their students. For the first time in their careers, teachers haven’t spent the day with their students, but parents have.
This morning, a local education reporter commented that the current situation was too stressful for parents and teachers and that the government should simply declare that summer holidays should begin immediately and put this remote learning experience out of its misery.
There may come a time when that will happen, but to even pose it now only demonstrates a basic ignorance of what is actually happening in homes and school communities. The days have structure and focus, students are connected with their peers, and teachers, and tutors, in most cases, face to face every “school” day. Parents are engaged in student learning in a rare and positive way, not just task masters at homework time, but as partners in supporting and connecting with their child’s school experience.
Is it perfect? No. Is it better than attending school? Well, much has been lost, but some interesting things have been gained that are bound to inform educational practice, and parenting, in the future. Anyone who thinks that our kids would be better off if we ended this experiment really has no idea what they are talking about!
Nobody asked for this. As a life-long educator, I have never seen anything like it. It has been an amazing revelation both as a teacher and as a parent. The years of lip service to the school/home relationship are over and a new reality has set in. It’s still rough around the edges, but it is working.
So, thanks to all of the dedicated educators that I work with every day, and especially to my own children’s teachers who strive to make every day a challenge that is manageable and often quite fun! But especially thanks to those families out there who, in the middle of a global pandemic, are working tirelessly to maintain a sense of normalcy in their child’s lives.
I cannot think of a better partnership.