Virtual education is no easy task for adults. As administrators and teachers worry about the technology and grieve the loss of physical connectivity, our babies showed up with laptops in arm and headphones ready to put on. Our children are resilient beyond measure. Now, I’m not saying that those cute pictures on social media of kids showing up for schooling at home remained cute and perfect. It’s real – attention spans vary, technology knowledge varies, a parents ability to troubleshoot varies, a teacher’s finesse with engaging while navigating the mute button and bathroom requests varies. It is by no means perfect and it is very varied. But, as I rely on my faith and resilience, my insight and analysis, and my training as a family therapist, I offer a few tips to consider while realizing we have varied family dynamics, varied resources and varied parenting philosophies.
I have 3 African American boys who are in grades 2, 5 and 7. We began their education in an independent Montessori school because we believe that it is important to meet a child where they are, allow them to explore manipulatives to learn and to be self-guided in their learning. We have since transitioned to public school in Durham, NC, and like all of us we are navigating through a national pandemic. As we transition to virtual learning of the public education in our home, we are faced with solidifying our “home school” values and re-imagining what education looks like from this vantage. It takes considerable courage to change and allow oneself to re-imagine.
Lesson 1: The same values that filled your heart and soul when your child was first born, the same hopes, dreams and beliefs that you had about your child and formal education do not change based on the environment. Stay rooted in those values while the whirlwinds of life move all around you. The same courage that you had when you birthed your child, is the same courage you must muster now in the midst of challenges and change. You got this.
As I watch my children settle into a routine of logging onto the computer and plugging in their headphones, I kiss the tops of their heads and wish them a good day. I go downstairs and listen out for any needs of help that may come. I also have the support of my spouse who is more comfortable with technology and I can breathe a sense of relief but for only a second. Because then, I think about the single parents who may not be comfortable with technology and may not have that support, the messages that I am receiving from the school district that the “cloud is down”, and the number of parent and teacher posts about being disconnected from the virtual platform or not being able to log on.
Lesson 2: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the wisdom to change the things that I can, and the power to know the difference”. Prayer changes things. And, not naively that the situation will be resolved, but the power of prayer to change our attitude about the situation in which we find ourselves. We have to operate from a place of grace, deep breathing and patience. It is important to our children that they can be reassured through our calmness. Hopefully, we can model patience to them while we tackle a new challenge to get them and keep them digitally connected in that moment.
However, the thing that school districts can change is to provide educational resources to parents and families who need that support as soon as possible. So many people focus on getting the kids connected, but we need the school district and community to step up to teach digital literacy one household at a time. Let’s meet our families where they are.
After being connected and not hearing any pleads for help, I turn to respond to a few emails and do a little work. And within 10 minutes, my 2nd grader is coming to my space and informing me that he is on a 5-minute break. My thoughts and work are interrupted, I turn to give him some attention, and then he is back to his computer. There are times when he comes off the call and it is not a scheduled break. Another interruption as he tells me why he chose to go somewhere else. As a parent, I want to go deeper to determine his lack of interest and determine if we need to fill in any gaps. By his 3rd break in 90 minutes and the wiggles he gets out on each break, I know that he needs them. Self-directed and guided. I trust him to take care of his needs.
Lesson 3: We all need breaks in work and in life. What break have you taken today? What break are you giving yourself in life? Breaks can be felt like moments of interruption or we can choose to receive the break, take a breath and re-center. His 7-year-old brain needs a break from the screen, from the seat and possibly from remote learning in general. My 45 year old brain has a bit more stamina to work for longer periods, but maybe, just maybe, if I took time to re-imagine what my day would look like had I scheduled breaks to laugh with a child, breathe deeply or roll my shoulders back and stretch my legs then how much more relaxed might I be.
My 5th and 7th grader seems to be engaged and enjoying seeing peers online. I am connecting with their teachers minimally because I can only imagine how much is on their plate. But it is even more important now to forge these relationships because as they are the primary teacher, I want them to see me as their assistant. And for this to happen, we must communicate on a regular basis. But who will initiate that? The teacher who has 20 kids and 20 parents/guardians to reach. Or, the parent who does not want to appear over-bearing but helpful because we are in this together and there is no more physical separation between home and school?
Lesson 4: We birth our babies and automatically become their teachers. We rely on wisdom from our ancestors and elders to nurture, groom and provide for these babies. When they become of age to receive formal education, we gently turn them over to teachers outside of ourselves. We allow independence to shape in another form, but it is always important to know your child’s teacher and have a relationship to make sure that the teacher knows your values and what your child needs. You know your child better than anyone else.
As the brick and mortar of schools have previously been a physical barrier for many reasons, we now have an opportunity to co-create and co-educate. We have an opportunity to build this bridge together. Teachers have a lot on their plate, and we should let them know that we do not expect them to do it on their own. Let us in. Treat us equitably. If we have means and resources to offer more and utilize asynchronous time to allow the teacher more synchronous time with another child, let us imagine that together. Teachers should not burden the pressure of a national pandemic and the weight that is put on schools. To be in a true community is to create a plan together.
These reflections are at the end of week 1, and this is just the beginning.
Jovonia Lewis, MS, EdS, LPC