Bridging the Distance

Home-school partnership has taken on new meaning during this past month of distance learning, sometimes feeling like a crossover between the two previously more distinct spaces.  I have gotten to overhear my kids’ classes and feel their school-related energies at home.  They pick each other’s brains for assignment ideas, commiserate, and even visit each other’s sessions.  One day my fourth grader scored 500 points during an appearance on his eighth grade brother’s  online class game show and the next day we cheered on my preschooler when she proudly selected croutons to add to the chicken soup pot in one of her favorite class songs.   I sense relief when my kids vent to me about their math and then hear me vent right back that it is complicated to me too. 

Experiencing school at home has helped me get my kids better.  I feel more in touch with their frustrations with aspects of learning they find less than thrilling as well as with the enthusiasm they exude for the parts they love.  An interesting hybrid of home and school is materializing.  Distance learning is not homeschooling and yet something new is evolving – a merger is taking place blending school and home in a remarkable way.  While there are some aspects of this merger that may have both literal and figurative glitches, there are others capable of bringing learning closer to home than it has ever been.  Being mindful of the subtleties in the evolution of our children’s learning may help us work through some of those glitches and preserve the benefits to incorporate when schools reopen.   

Distance is relational.  While engaging in distance learning, there are certain things that we regard as being distant, namely the people and places we typically associate with learning.  It may be teachers from students, students from each other, and each of them from their school buildings and classrooms.  While learning from the comfort of our homes, though, something very interesting happens.  We catch glimpses of each other’s home environments, as well as reveal some of our own.  Whether it is our kids, siblings, pets, or aspects of our physical workspace; a wall hanging, desk prop, or anything else, a window is offered into each other’s worlds.  These background people and props add an important layer to the teaching and learning taking place.   They teach about the unspoken context of our learning and help us know ourselves and each other a little more intimately.  How this affects relationships and learning inevitably varies for each person, and it is worthwhile to be mindful of it.

Opportunities to utilize personal items and be present in our own homes can be transformative for learning as well.  Whether it is  using one’s own desk, chair, backyard, or even smelling and eating home cooked food while engaging in the virtual school day, these conditions enable a fusion of sensory experiences that had previously been kept more separate.  Sleep and diet patterns are being affected too.  While bedtimes may be getting later, kids are generally able to sleep a little later in the morning.  The morning rush to school and work is different and likely slower paced now.  Meal planning is different too.  Eating, growth, and mood patterns may be changed as a result and this too is an important consideration in relation to learning.  What does this mean for students’ identities?  What does it mean for their home and school affiliations when they experience this unity between the two?  Being mindful of these changes can help bridge the distance of the learning currently happening in our respective home environments.

This learning model has also called on teachers to teach differently.  They have had to rethink lesson planning and classroom management.  They have also had to reprioritize curricular goals and appropriate assessments.  This is especially challenging at this late point in the year to be shifting from a preset vision for conducting their classes.  Doing so, though, may help teachers come in touch with elements of their own teaching styles and abilities that they may not have previously considered.  While certain features of teaching necessarily change, certain others need to be honored as they are.  For example, recess is still a sacred time for students.  I have heard of teachers suggesting cutting into recess for different reasons including the possibility that students may have logged in late.  Logging in late will happen – whether due to personal home scheduling or technical difficulties, but recess cannot be compromised.  Technical problems with  logins are to be expected, but  so is the need for breaks and movement.  I have also heard about students being given additional work and being told that there is an assumption that they have more time on their hands.  This may or may not be true.  Many students are needed to step up to help in their homes, whether with chores, siblings, or anything else and they do not have as much additional time for schoolwork as it may seem.  Adjusting expectations for quality, quantity, and timing of work needs to be considered very carefully, with regard for evolving personal needs for all involved, including students. 

Another intriguing byproduct of distance learning is the array of clues it gives us into each other’s mindsets and daily rhythms.  Hearing enthusiasm from teachers and administrators, for example, goes a long way in motivating students.  Feedback from students has also been so valuable for educators who are missing their students and are trying to gauge whether they are heard, understood, and how to pace their teaching.  Parental roles are vital here too.  Whether parents are working inside or outside their homes, and whether they have access to childcare or cleaning help, they are overextended.  But whatever insight children gain into not only what their parents’ daily routines look like, but also how they cope, is incredibly meaningful.  On the flipside, parents are privy to nuances in their children’s learning; whether their teacher’s tone of voice, the class structure, or the expressions on their children’s faces as they learn.    Each of these visual images and sounds bites give us insight into each other’s lives.  They may reveal areas requiring problem solving, increased gratitude, or a deepening of compassion and understanding for each other’s learning experiences.            

While I have heard concerns expressed over whether students will be on par with their grade levels and whether they will be sufficiently prepared for the next school year, I am not worried.  I see and hear learning happening and I know flexibility and review will go a long way in playing catch up where necessary.  I am very curious though as to what this experience is teaching each of us – administrators, teachers, students, and parents, about our roles and our influences in the educational process.  While this scenario was unplanned, it invites  each one of us to pay closer attention to the rhythms in our own and in one another’s days.  And if we happen to overhear conversation – between our children and their teachers or between our children as they learn side by side, let us cherish those moments and keep the windows open.  There is a great deal of insight to be gained.

About the Author
Aviva Edelstein is an educational consultant living in Teaneck, NJ. She has created and implemented home school programs and is working toward completing her doctorate in mindfulness and education at Yeshiva University.
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