5 Tips for Supporting Parents in Their New Roles as Teachers
School buildings are closed, students are learning at home, and parents must now step into the roles of teachers. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
As many parents settle into their additional responsibilities in a new digital learning environment, it’s important to remember that for many, it’s their first time in this role. Most first year teachers get extensive training and have chosen teaching as a profession. But for many parents, this is uncharted territory.
Here are our top five tips for helping parents transition into their new roles as teachers.
1. Pace out your day.
It’s natural to think that mimicking the schedule your students had at school is the most effective way to transition to distance learning, but your new schedule should prioritize the needs of the whole child and the whole family, not just academics.
We’ve all seen the multicolored, time-blocked schedules online, and it’s no surprise that a lot of parents took these and tweaked them for their family with a sigh of relief as if to say, “if we just stick to this, everything will be OK.” Only to find out a week later, that they’re more stressed and their students seem to be becoming less and less independent. For a class of 20-30 students, spending an hour on a math lesson is often necessary. When you’re now teaching one student, or a small group of students on different levels, spending an hour teaching a math concept can feel like an eternity. In reality, you can still teach a full course load in much less than 6-8 hours per day.
Routines are important, they provide a sense of safety, increase independence, and help develop positive habits. Instead of attempting to keep a strict, school-like schedule—which can be overwhelming for both students and parents—focus on building foundational routines. For example, in place of scheduling an hour long block of math lessons from 9am to 10am every day, ensure students know what they’re responsible for completing that day and use those chunks of time to allow them to address their lessons and explore their interests in whatever order they prefer.
Consider establishing three or four 60-90 minute blocks of time per day (depending on the age of your students) with time in between for meals, play, household responsibilities, and spending time together.
2. Take advantage of teachable moments.
A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher—or parent, in this case—has a chance to offer relevant insight to his or her students. From your child asking what a word he sees or hears means to learning the kinds of plants that grow in your yard, teachable moments can happen anytime and often occur when they’re least expected. A spur of the moment family history lesson can spark from a call from Grandma. An explanation of earning, investing, and saving money might come up at the drive-thru ATM.
Children are curious by nature, but that doesn’t mean parents have all the answers. When your student poses a question you don’t have the answer to, you create another teachable moment by looking it up together. (You can even weave in some digital citizenship skills. Read on, we’ll discuss more of that).
Always keep in mind that, like parenting, teaching is not a one-way exchange. As both parents and teachers, we are often learning new ways to do things as we go along based on prior experience and current circumstance. You set a great example by showing your students that you are a lifelong learner.
3. Focus on the mental and emotional wellbeing of your students and yourself.
Plan each day with the whole child in mind. This usually does not include hours upon hours of typical school activities or studying, because—frankly—that’s not what’s most important right now. Your students may feel confused as to why everyone is at home, sad they can’t play with their friends, or worried that someone they love will get sick. Take time to talk about feelings, ask questions, and share accurate, age-appropriate information about what’s going on in the world.
When children learn about and practice emotional regulation—the ability to identify, respond to, and manage one's own emotional state—they are not only more ready for learning, but to be healthier members of the family.
4. Embed age appropriate digital citizenship.
In today’s world, teaching students how to be good digital citizens is arguably as essential as teaching them how to be good citizens in general. Students need to know how to interact with others on the internet in a responsible and productive manner. As you might expect, proper behavior looks different for elementary students and high school students, but internet safety is a top priority at all levels.
At home, it starts with modeling ethical technology use and talking about it whenever you’re using technology for a lesson (remember teachable moments?). This way, you’re helping students take ownership of their digital lives. These skills are relevant and necessary far beyond the kitchen table or traditional classroom.
5. Take it easy on yourself.
Feeling overwhelmed is completely natural during a time of unpredictability and sudden change. You’re not alone. As a parent of three school-aged children, I can admit to feeling this every day. Keep in mind that no one person or source has all the answers and perfection is not the ultimate goal. Doing the best you can for yourself and your students is the goal. Take a deep breath and relax. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.