It’s a New Day, and Relationships are Key
By Tamara Fyke
Over the past week, I have had multiple conversations with educational leaders, discussing re-opening as well as the needs of students, families and staff. Although there are some who are resistant to the idea, most acknowledge that business as usual will not work. Districts and schools are busily planning for various scenarios, virtual learning, in-person and virtual learning, and in-person only.
Two of the biggest concerns I have heard from folks about virtual learning is the need for family involvement and the need for student engagement. For both of these concerns, I believe there are three keys to success.
1. Relationship – Students and families alike do not care about complying with our plans unless they know that we truly care for them. So, what can we do to build relationships with them in our world of social distancing? For families, we can start with one-on-one phone calls or video chats to introduce ourselves and our goals for the year. Then we can schedule bi-weekly or monthly check-ins throughout the year. Perhaps, we can even go the extra mile by making a home-visit and delivering books and supplies.
For students, we must prioritize social-emotional learning. This is more than just a “How was your weekend?” We must be intentional by planning at least 15-20 minutes/day for direct instruction about social skills and competencies using culturally relevant content. We must also guard that time in order to cultivate consistency.
2. Blended Experience – Given the guidance of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, we must remember that distance learning is equivalent to homeschooling. That means instructional hours are different. We are looking for quality, not quantity.
- Elementary students = 1-2 hours/day
- Middle school students = 2-3 hours/day
- High school students = 3-4 hours/day
Therefore, in addition to our face-time through our platform of choice, we must create asynchronous learning experiences that can occur online and offline. In other words, we must provide meaningful and fun hands-on activities that students can do at home by themselves or with the help of a family member, such as an older sibling, parent or grandparent. Project-based learning and Montessori activities can be extremely beneficial.
What is difficult for some educators with whom I’ve spoken recently is the idea of relinquishing control. However, we must empower our students to be autonomous learners who embrace challenge and grow through failure. We must also support our parents, providing them the understanding, patience, instruction, and supplies they need to co-teach with us.
3. Life Application – As a mom of three children who are now 22, 17, and 14, I have been asked countless times, “Mom, what does this assignment have to do with the real world?” My kids are smart, and they don’t want to waste their time. Once I give them the “why” behind the assignment, then they can see their way through the most difficult tasks. However, if they perceive it as busy work that has no connection to their future goals, then they will only do the job half-way. The onus is on us as caring adults to be explicit about the “why.” I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that if we scrutinize our work in this way that we would rid ourselves of superfluous tasks and focus on what kids really need to do to become productive and contributing members of society.
Just because it’s the way we have always done things does not mean it is right. Our world has changed in the past 6 months. It’s time for the ways we educate our children, including systems and content, to change too. What excites me most about this new day is that we as educators and caring adults have the opportunity to innovate as we put children and families first.
About the author
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.
Tamara is editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Follow her on Twitter .
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.