We’re now almost six weeks into the 2020-21 school year and in our district, 94% of our students are learning in a hybrid model with two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning. The other 6% of our students are in a fully remote model.
I’ve been receiving more feedback about learning from our families than ever before in my twenty years as a school administrator. All of that experience prepared me to listen carefully, study the issues, do my research and make solid decisions, that I should then carefully communicate. All of that experience, plus ten solid years as a classroom teacher did nothing to prepare me for one new challenge for public schools.
We now have to figure out how to differentiate learning for our families too.
Great teachers work hard to know their students well. They come to learn their strengths and weaknesses and to design lessons that reach every student where it’s needed. It’s called differentiating and it’s exactly what it sounds like–differing how and what we teach based on the students in front of us.
Based on the parent emails and phone calls I’ve received; I recognize that now our teachers and our plans have to differentiate learning for our families. I’ve had emails from parents requesting more–more time on direct learning through the computer, more supplemental activities that they can do at home, more time for in-person learning. I’ve also heard from families who want less–longer deadlines, fewer assignments to complete, less work on remote days.
Here’s an example of a family concern that came my way that never would have likely hit my desk before this year. The mother of a first grader noticed that her daughter was doing a tracing paper–trace the letters or numbers. She was frustrated at the lack of rigor in this work. She knows that her daughter can recognize and easily write all of her letters–so why was this assigned?
Differentiation for families? Well, that teacher has other parents in the class who don’t have the time and ability to work with their children. We’ve asked teachers to send/post work that’s manageable, what can a first grader do on her own? And of course, some of our first graders still need that activity. In an in-person class, the teacher would have quickly seen that the tracing activity was far below the abilities of this first grader. The teacher would have differentiated her instruction and moved the child on to more relevant learning. Now, it’s going to take longer for that teacher to identify all of the different strengths and weaknesses of her students and to modify her instruction to meet each child’s needs.
Families can help teachers learn more about our students. Instead of seeing that tracing paper as a concern about the overall quality of teaching, use it as an opportunity to email the teacher and tell her about your kid. Give her information about what you see when your child is working remotely. And teachers, ask our families for information. Parent/Teacher Conferences need to be a two-way conversation now more than ever before–not just a lecture on all of the things your child needs to do better (they never should have been that conversation). We’ve got to find additional ways to get to know our students really well, ways that bridge the gap left by only two days of in-person learning. Our teachers have time to talk with you on our fully remote Wednesdays. Ask for a virtual conference or telephone call. Teachers, offer families time to talk.
For our middle and high school students, teacher your children to advocate for themselves at this age. They can also communicate with their teachers, ask for help or tell the teacher what’s not working. This is critical for all children in any year, and especially now. My own mom always pushed me to advocate for myself saying, “I’m not fighting your battles for you, go talk to them!” There’s a parenting lesson that’s served me well my entire life.