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Husband, Father, Employee . . . Teacher?

September 2, 2020

The first day of school. It’s a magical day for so many, full of hope, optimism, excitement, anticipation -- and nostalgia, for those with some tenure. During these early school days, the sun begins to set earlier, the weather begins to cool and in towns big and small, the pageantry of “Friday Night Lights” sets in.

At least, that’s how things used to be, pre-pandemic. This school year, uncertainty reigns.

It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges, complexity and sadness of a remote start to school. With that in mind, here are some tips that may help you cope. We hope these suggestions will help you and your families adjust to remote learning -- or reassure you that you’re not alone.

1. Know your child’s school technology.

Ask your children to give you a quick run-through on what they use to communicate with their teachers and classroom peers, how they access their schedules, how they learn with others on Zoom or Google Hangouts and what tech tools they use when working independently.

2. Know your child’s personal technology.

If your at-home learner is in middle or high school, he or she probably has a smartphone. And as we parents know all too well, phones can be distracting. Align with your child on expectations for phone use and limit distractions, especially during virtual class.

3. If possible, give your child a cohort.

A normal in-person school day lasts six to seven hours. Last spring, schools found that trying to recreate these hours-long days via Zoom was both unhealthy and unsustainable.

Parents can bring some of the traditional school day to students, within reason. Consider your family’s level of comfort with in-person interaction, and then think about how to set up a cohort of friends or peers for a measure of in-person learning. That way, students can work collaboratively and independently, ask one another questions and get help on assignments.

As parents, we may need to recreate the play dates and “lunch bunch” groups we organized for our kindergarteners and preschoolers years ago. When done responsibly, these in-person gatherings can provide kids some social and emotional interaction, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend for children of all ages.

4. Designate a learning space.

Creating a dedicated schooling space is easier than you think, with simple at-home creations like cardboard dividers that can delineate a desk at the kitchen table.

One of KI's industrial designers recently had a fun afternoon with his three daughters creating DIY desktop dividers using inexpensive cardboard and supplies from a local craft store.

DIY Dividers.png

Such a “destination space” -- where your student’s schoolwork lives, stays and happens -- can help your children feel like there’s still a “school day” and get in the right mindset for learning.

5. Make it fun!

Remote schooling can create stress that saps the fun out of learning. So it’s crucial for teachers and parents to make room for fun in their lessons in order to keep kids engaged.

Even in the best of times, middle school can be tough on adolescents. In my community, some teachers have found creative ways to get to know their students and brighten their virtual school days. One history teacher asked parents to write him a letter sharing their child’s personal history -- something he might not have done had school started in person. Another teacher put a spin on students being stuck at home by having them do an at-home scavenger hunt over Zoom.

Parents can contribute to the fun, too. Consider giving your kids a 10-minute break to watch TikTok videos or create their own in line with what they’re studying. Suggest they complete their one-page writing assignment by describing their favorite episode of “Wild Kratts.” Little moments of levity like these can go a long way.

Looking Ahead

Although remote learning can be trying, I’m confident we’ll find more magic, hope, optimism and excitement when we return to school. Together, we’ll experience a newfound gratitude for our learning communities -- and eventually experience that rush of nostalgia once again.

by Jonathan Matta  National Education Leader

Jonathan Matta is KI's National Education Leader, supporting organizations in their pursuit of solving complex challenges by applying the power of design. Matta previously served as the Vice President of Design at RXBAR, where he led a design team that applied a variety of design strategies, chiefly Design Thinking, to a multitude of organizational challenges. Jonathan holds an altMBA from Seth Godin's program, along with completed courses from Stanford University's "d.school" and IDEO-U. He received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University.

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